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2007-02 A day for the Irish and all those who wish they were

There's a tiny corner of Ireland in every major city across the globe. Irish pubs
are everywhere.

 

St.Patrick's Day is the one national holiday celebrated in more countries around the world than any other, one of the biggest `party-days', a day exclusively for the Irish, and those who wish they were Irish. Would we ever witness worldwide St.George's festivities?

Though there are only 4 million of us here in Ireland, around 80 million across the world claim "Irishness", proving it's not only our land which is fertile.

Until recently, Patrick's Day festivities at home paled in comparison to those abroad. As this reluctant cub-scout marched in the Sligo parade, past polite audiences on Castle Street and O'Connell Street, my knocking knees froze and my hair dampened beneath my green peaked cap. I was underwhelmed, bored even, by the assorted `floats' behind and in front of me. Parades seemed parochial, exclusive, limited in their appeal. I was well able to recite in the minutest detail the myth and truth of our patron saint, telling tales of Milko, Slemish, Tara and the shamrock. There were no ferries in the 5th Century, and certainly no cars, so I never understood how St.Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland  "Are ye alright in the back there lads?". Did snakes symbolise  pagans? It also seemed absurdly ironic that our patron saint was English, perhaps Welsh.

"The Quiet Man" image of Ireland spread far and wide. Sadly, so too did a lot of "Paddy-whackery". Despite the fact that the towering figures of 20th Century literature were almost exclusively Irish, as a nation we were plagued with Paddy jokes, insulting accents, alien phrases such as "Top o' the Mornin", and viewed by many as a nation of drunken buffoons. We had endless non-Irish actors doing non-Irish accents, like Tom Cruise in "Far and Away" and (my worst) Daryl Hannah in "High Spirits". "Oirishness" spread into the 1990s.  

But now, at long last, new multi-cultural parades moved with the times, reflecting the Ireland of today. St.Patrick's Festivals (in particular Dublin's 5-day Super-Fest) now reflect the talents and achievements of Irish people nationally and internationally, showing us to be one of the most artistically creative and commercially productive countries in the world. Immigrants use March 17th as a cultural and nostalgic link to the homeland, reminiscing on our times as a downtrodden ethnic minority in the UK, USA, Australia and elsewhere. We ought to remember those times, and warmly extend the hand of friendship to the thousands who now want a slice of our success.  Ireland is a `rags to riches' story, as we triumphed over adversity, and inspired other nations. It became clear what a vast influence our wee Emerald Isle had on the world. Fine actors such as Cate Blanchett ("Veronica Guerin") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot") are entirely convincing in Irish roles. Similarly, Irish music has moved on, and sexed up.

In the words of Bill Clinton, "Irishness has become a state of mind".

Of course, as always there is a downside. Some visitors are disappointed with the new Ireland. Some of our naïve charm and "Céad Míle Fáilte" has gone, to be sure. Drink is an essential part of Paddy's Day festivities, but at least we Irish are pleasant drunks, unlike some of our close neighbours. However, like Christmas, maybe it's time we had a fresh look at the original message.

But we are a forgiving nation, as was demonstrated so recently by the respect
shown at Croke Park.

There will always be shillelaghs, silly hats, leprechauns on Harley Davidsons, green milkshakes, colcannon and coddle cookbooks, and people wanting to
upset our equilibrium, but no-one can deny how far our little nation has come.

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir!