St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland, and indeed all over the world, on 17th March, or your nearest day off, depending on whether you’re lucky enough to get the day off or not. And there’s “controversies” every year about the day, with Irish people moaning it’s yet another holiday associated with a religious holiday, pagans moaning that dear, old Paddy wasn’t all that great, and history experts (the real sort, not the internet sort) getting caught in between.
And after one of my recent emails to my fans (or at least people who agree to sign up to receive emails from me, click here if you’re interested) people came back asking what my thoughts on the day. So here you go…
I’ll be the first to admit that, for a lot of my life, Paddy’s was celebrated as a day off work or a day on double pay when I was in college. In my early years post-college, it was a chance to meet up with friends in Dublin, see the parade, or the tail-end of it, and then hit the pubs for the day. It was a day to relax and let our hair down, and drink quite a lot. So, having been in that tradition myself, I don’t really condemn those who celebrate in this way now. I can’t bring myself to be that hypocritical and, really, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself.
Where I do get a bit annoyed is when people start saying that because it’s Paddy’s Day, there’s almost an onus on us to get plastered, sure cos aren’t the Irish all mad drinkers anyway? Alcohol causes a lot of problems in this country, so don’t be using that rhetoric to justify or excuse letting your own hair down. I drank for problematic reasons for years, beginning far younger than I really should have, I recognise now, even if it was the norm. I also know there are plenty of my friends who started drinking around the same age I did who didn’t end up with the years long dubious relationship with drink. So, that comes down to the individual (and I should add, the laws of the land. I’m not recommending anyone go breaking laws now!)
And the whole dying rivers green thing and the lighting up buildings green and all the rest – it’s great advertisement for Ireland and fair play to those places doing it. I did feel sorry for poor Micheál Mairtín though, getting COVID so he couldn’t meet with Joe Biden. Paddy’s being a chance for our politicians to go promote the Irish tourism industry all over the world – take advantage of it, if it brings in more money to deal with the problems we have at home!
The things I don’t like seeing? Well there’s the annual “Paddy is a druid-killer” debate, seeing as how he drove the snakes out of Ireland. As far as I’m aware, the whole “drove the snakes out of Ireland” thing was invented to explain the distinct lack of snakes on this island – apparently we’re too wet and cold for them. More joy to us, in that case! Also, Paddy wasn’t going around killing people as a general rule. He was a lone man in an isolated country, where he’d been a slave a few years previously, before escaping. He also wasn’t the first Christian on the island either, there were Christians before him, or so Pope Celestine 1’s letter to Palladius in 431 would indicate, referring as it does to Palladius being “first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ.” So, he wasn’t the first, he wasn’t the last, he was just the one with the best propogandist.
He also didn’t eradicate paganism from Ireland. I can’t find anyone daring to specify a date from which we can consider Ireland to be Christian, but most academic resources outline a syncretic process happening over centuries rather than at the point of a sword over a single generation. I have read in various places that a few outbreaks of famine where the monastic settlements had more food than non-monastic settlements helped a bit as well. (Oh yeah, there’s way more than 1 famine in Irish history!!) And some would say, myself included, that Christianity in Ireland was always a thin enough veneer over a deep bedrock of paganism. In comparison to the more fundamentalist Protestant religions, Catholicism is often considered pagan anyway, but it is monotheistic officially, whatever about the realms of saints…
I also dislike intensely people from outside Ireland telling us how we should and shouldn’t celebrate the day. Let’s face it, for many of us, it’s a day off work or a day we get double pay for working. There’s few people would give that up just to satisfy other people’s notions of how we should celebrate our country. And for many of us, Paddy’s isn’t even a religious occasion any more. It’s a time for relaxing, maybe for venturing forth to your local parade, which will be extremely different to the big on in Dublin in most cases, for spending time with family, for catching up on housework or just relaxing and chilling. It’s a day off.
And it’s a day we can celebrate being Irish. Not that we can’t celebrate 365 days of the year, but there is a buzz about the day of the year when it seems the whole world turns green. It’s also fantastic in (very) recent years to see the communities of emigrants celebrated in the national parade, and this year was the first time I have seen the Travelling Community represented in the national parade (although they could have been there in previous years and I didn’t notice? Or did I imagine that? Either is possible and firm answers either way are welcomed.)
This is the day we can turn out our best image possible and let the world admire us.
It doesn’t take away from all the issues in the country – direct provision, homelessness, violence against women, poverty, hunger… All these things will still need to be dealt with. And I don’t mind St. Patrick having his day after all, haven’t I said plenty of times before, he has his day, but Brigid supports the people throughout the year? Patrick is our immigrant saint, the one that we have claimed as our own, as we have claimed other immigrants and invaders over the years. We now need to learn to extend that to the more recent immigrants, extend it to those who maybe don’t look quite like us? (Yes, I’m talking about non-white immigrants here, we need to be better about racism in this country. As in eradicate it and listen to the lived experience of those BIPOC in our society to do so).
Colmcille is our emigrant patron saint, who paved the way for so many emigrants over the centuries, some more willing than others. Brigid is our homegrown and stayed saint. No wonder she’s special!
But back to Patrick. This year, I slept in, no alarm clock. Read a bit. Watched the parade on the telly. Tried to moderate a bit online, but frankly, I’m unsure whether anyone was willing to listen. I didn’t even bother having a drink this year, cos I was looking forward to my bed!
If you’re Irish – no one really has the right to tell you how to celebrate our national holiday. People can give opinions all they like, but it’s up to you. If you’re not Irish, then maybe listen to the Irish around you. And remember, just because one Irish person once told you X was ok, doesn’t mean it is acceptable to any and all Irish people.
If you’re not Irish and if you want to celebrate Irish food and cooking – brown bread, fruit scones, bacon and cabbage, spuds with plenty butter, don’t go skimping now… If you want to celebrate Irish drink – the big named brands are all pretty much foreign owned. Try some of the smaller distilleries, Slane whiskey (distilled not far from where I grew up) is nice, as is Connemara whiskey. There are also some beer/ ale breweries around the country as well, just do your research because big names like Jameson are owned by Pernod Ricard (just as an example) There are also plenty of Irish food producers, whether you’re looking for chocolate or seaweed. Do your research and see what locals think of them – that’s usually your best bet.
Be respectful, don’t talk over native voices and listen to what’s being said. The Irish, no more than any other group of people on earth, are not a monolith and what I’ve said above may not pass for any other Irish person. But seriously – a day without the alarm clock going off, who’d refuse that??