| 7°C Dublin

Passing on these Irish lessons

AN ARTICLE on Yahoo! during the week pointed out that the most exciting St Patrick's Day celebrations don't always take place in Ireland. Hmm . . . you think?

An overseas visitor casually watching television in a hotel bar on Saturday might have been bemused by how little effort our national broadcaster puts into the (supposedly) most important day in the national cultural calendar.

To be fair, TV always finds it difficult to communicate the atmosphere and energy of the St Patrick's Day Parade. You really do have to be there. The spectacle is invariably reduced when framed within even the biggest, sharpest TV screen.

It's become standard practice to have Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and Aidan Power on the ground as parade-side reporters, interviewing participants and spectators.

This, I think, is supposed to bring the viewer closer to the "action"; well, it doesn't. It has a distancing effect, breaking the rhythm of what's essentially a visual experience. If RTE must cover the parade (and I suppose it must), what's wrong with just training a few cameras on it and letting Des Cahill, or whoever, do his commentary thing?

I didn't have very high hopes for How To Be Irish, which was pitched as RTE's "first global user-generated documentary" and grew out of a worldwide Twitter conversation initiated by 2fm DJ Rick O'Shea. But it turned out to be the liveliest innovation in a schedule as dead as withered shamrock.

As a means of giving us a wide-ranging picture of the current Irish experience at home and abroad, O'Shea threw out an open invitation to the Irish around the globe to submit their video clips, which they apparently did in their thousands.

The selected items (there are countless more available on RTE's YouTube channel) ranged from the banal -- two teenage girls on cameraphone in New Zealand performing "an Irish haka"; a young emigrant with a self-consciously "Irish-American" accent remarking how he now says "jerk" where he used to say "langer" -- to the insightful: Louthman Tommy Smith, who's lived in the Bronx in New York since 1963.

"Everybody always considered the Bronx to be the 33rd county of Ireland," he recalled, contrasting the emigrant experience then and now. It used to be easy to enter the United States; all you had to do was buy a plane ticket. Yet it was still very much alien territory where it was impossible to find a single familiar Irish product in the shops. "The ironic thing is the all the Irish goods are here now, and yet it's very difficult for anyone from Ireland to get in."

I could have done with a bit more of Tommy, as well as a bit more of How To Be Irish as a whole, since 25 minutes was too skimpy to do the idea justice. It was an experiment worth carrying out, though, and one that might bear repeating at greater length this time next year.

It was intriguing, incidentally, to hear one middle-aged woman say she feels most Irish when she's outside Ireland. Certainly, the Paddy's Day pride you might take in your Irishness at home was lessened by the sight of a contestant in a leprechaun suit on the wretched Winning Streak, or the appalling Crystal Swing on The Saturday Night Show.

They were there to perform their new song, a country number co-written by the polymathic John Waters, who was also a guest. Waters can be an amusingly contrarian presence on television and had some interesting things to say.

Alas, he can also be a bit prickly sometimes about what other journalists write about him -- it's an Irish thing, I guess -- so you'll just have to take my word, as opposed to his words, for it.

st patrick's day parade HHIII how to be irish HHHII the saturday night show HHIII