- 19 Mar 13
With President Michael D Higgins wowing audiences across the world, things are beginning to look up. Ireland is on the rise. Let’s seize the day...
And so, the big wheel spins. Hark, the vernal equinox. There are snowdrops and leafbuds and the first shoots of rhubarb. Animals, humans included, sniff around each other with fresh fascination. We have evenings again.
This is the month we don the green jersey and remind the world that we’re here. And there. Barack Obama will receive another bowl of shamrock. Across the world landmarks will be lit in green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
It’s all about being Irish, right? But in 2013 what does that mean?
There will be parades, thousands of them. We love parades. Some of them are brilliant, some are not. Yet each captures a little shard of what we are. Angels and divils, Gael and Gall, majorettes, line dancers, pole dancers, actors, jugglers, fire-eaters, stilt-walkers, clowns, face painters, drummers, majorettes (again)…
There will be official receptions.
All of which begs a question. A pagan celebration of the equinox, very important in these northern latitudes, became a Christian feast-day. But in recent years St Patrick’s Day degenerated into Paddy’s Day. Or even Paddies’ Day, a messy feast of paddywhackery and rowdiness. How did this happen?
The thing about Paddy, as opposed to Patrick, is that he’s too fond of a drink. He gets out of hand, wants to take on the besht man in the whole town. And the gal is right up there with him. Call it Paddy’s day and there’s only one result.
Most of us thought we’d dispensed with that version of ourselves. I mean, the latest analysis of drinking patterns in Ireland shows that we’ve left the mad drinking days behind and in most cases are enjoying alcohol responsibly, as the saying goes.
All this comes to mind courtesy of a succession of emails referencing “sober St Patrick’s Day”.
Sober. Well, I know some people get drunk and misbehave on March 17 but I don’t like the word sober in this context. It’s essentially American so it carries a binary undertow, that is, it suggests that your choice comes down to a teetotal day or a drunken day.
(America is the only place on earth where it is acceptable behaviour for a waiter to hand you an Alcoholics Anonymous card after you order your third drink.)
I disagree!! You can have a few drinks and still be sober!
It ties into a bigger question. We are scattered and scattering across the globe. Up to a hundred million people claim Irish blood. At the same time, even as 30,000 emigrate every year, tens of thousands flock into Ireland. A lot of them stay and in due course they too
It’s no longer about your village, your breed and seed, the threads of generations linking you with your place and parish and culture. “Irish” is as much brand name as identity now, and that takes it out of our hands.
We’re not actually mad drunks but everyone thinks we are and tells us we are – including our own public health temperance advocates – so we’ve started to accept it. We look around and mostly we don’t see the craziness they talk about but if they say it’s happening then…
But deep down, though we can be ruthless and opportunistic and Olympic-winning whingers, on the whole we’re a people you’d be proud to represent. Despite the troubles we’ve seen and the righteous anger that has followed, we are decent, compassionate, creative, committed, romantic and resilient.
Look at the report of President Higgins’ Being Young and Irish initiative. Emphatically, the young people who participated felt proud of being Irish – and they wanted the country itself and the society it accommodates to be one of which they too could be proud.
So what if we like our craic? We’ve been through so much shit we have a right to enjoy ourselves when we get the chance.
Perhaps we’d be advised to embellish the mischief in our music, literary and theatre traditions with the kind of surrealist streak the Italians have shown, by electing a party of comedians to the Dail.
But walking through the streets of Dublin this past week as the tourists gather, one couldn’t but feel better about being Irish than has been possible for quite some time. Even Christine Lagarde wore a green scarf.
There’s something in the air. It isn’t just the influence of President Higgins, though it’s clear from reports of his barnstorming performances in South America, Italy and especially France that he is doing exactly what he said on his tin and is indeed a President we can be proud of. No, it’s more. It’s us.
Come next weekend I’ll pull on a green jersey and raise a glass to the equinox. The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Here’s to the future.