All of us have things we love about our native lands, and all of us have things we can’t stand. I’m no exception. I’m very proud of being Irish, and by and large I’m happy to live in Ireland and to say that ‘ich am of irlaunde‘, but there are also things which make me angry, mad, and depressed about the country of my birth. As ‘modern’ as we like to think we are, there’s a lot of inequality here, and there can be a strange, parochial, ‘me-me-me’ mindset which privileges some people over others, and certain groups in our society are given far too large a platform to espouse their viewpoints, sometimes at the expense of reasoned debate.
Hm. No different to anywhere else then, I suppose.
There’s one day of the year, however, when it’s easy to cast all your cynicism about being Irish to one side, and just enjoy the fact of your nationality, and that’s ‘Lá le Phádraig’ – St Patrick’s Day. I never go into Dublin to watch the St Patrick’s Day parade there any more, because as spectacular as it is (and this year was no exception) I can’t deal with the crowds, and the noise, and the public drunkenness (though if you’re younger, fitter and more of a party animal than I am, you can’t beat Dublin on St Patrick’s Day for ‘craic‘). I stay at home instead, where the parade consists of a few old tractors chugging up the main street, and the local Irish dancing school jigging along behind them, and local amenity groups taking a chance to thank the people who’ve supported them all year round. This is the sort of St Patrick’s Day parade that I love.
I haven’t been living in my local village for very long (well, it’s several years at this stage, but in Ireland, unless you’re born somewhere you’re always a ‘blow-in’!), but I have made friends in my time here, enough to see several familiar faces in the crowd and walking in the parade itself. This recognition connects me to the parades of my childhood, in which I knew everybody, and makes me feel part of something bigger and more meaningful. I love that I live in a place which has a hugely rural flavour and sensibility, where showcasing farm machinery and celebrating our local Macra na Feirme (an association for young farmers) and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (a nationwide network of Irish music and dancing groups) is a parade highlight, and where people of all nationalities and backgrounds walk together in the strip of our local Gaelic Athletic Association football and hurling clubs. I’d sooner stand in the cold to watch this sort of parade than I’d like to look at the fancy, multi-million euro spectacles put on in our larger cities; the smaller parades make me feel Irish, and they make me feel proud of the hardworking, dedicated and connected community which unites our smaller towns and villages up and down the country. I’m wary of nationalistic fervour, and I don’t believe that pride in one’s country should make a person blind to that country’s flaws, but watching the effort that people put into their costumes and floats, and the good humour with which they wait for hours for their turn to walk in the parade, and the sense of togetherness that the day fosters, I can’t help but be happy to live where I live. And that’s a good thing.
Whether you observed it or not (and whether you were even aware of the day at all!) I hope you had a good St Patrick’s Day, and that you wore a little bit of green, somewhere. Did you manage to catch a parade, or do anything ‘Irish’ on the day? If you’ve never been in Ireland on March 17, maybe next year is they year you should pay us a visit – just make sure to wrap up warmly while you’re waiting for the parade to start!