It leaves me cold, sorry. You can get on with it, don’t let me stop you. There are enough of you that genuinely enjoy what is now more commonly referred to – even in the ‘quality’ Press, as Paddy’s Day. Just don’t expect me to join in.
As a young schoolboy I used to be sent off to school sporting a huge sprig of shamrock, maybe an orange and green harp badge too. The shamrock had arrived in little boxes from some Irish aunt. A splash of water and it was ready for action. At assembly we’d all sing Hail Glorious St Patrick. The mix of Catholic religion and Irish heritage seemed to count for something.
And yes, I acknowledge that people still look forward to the parades. Every city and town of any size in Ireland has one. All over the world the Irish diaspora celebrate likewise on a scale unlike that of any other national day. The floats are the result of some hard work. The crowds pack the streets and the children wave their balloons and flags and have a good time.
Then, in Ireland at any rate, everyone gets pissed. The singing, fighting and puking in Dublin is usually confined to Temple Bar at the weekends but today it’s everywhere. I like a drink but this is distinctly unpleasant. Just ask the Garda Siochana what they think of Paddy’s Day.
And away from Ireland it’s in your face. The paddywhackery – leprechaun hats and beards, green drinks, every amateur musician banging out singalong ‘traditional’ songs. As well as the Irish-connected you have plenty roaming the streets who couldn’t tell you the first thing about the country, looking for the craic. In New York Boston, Chicago they will be singing about a place that most have no intention of ever visiting.
I’m very proud of my Irish roots. I’m an Irish passport-holder and as I approach Cork City I always get the distinct feeling that I am going home. But Ireland is a much different place these days – it bears little relation to the place I used to visit as a child. It has firmly taken its place in the wide world and has welcomed all-comers to its shores. EU money has helped create a road infrastructure that never existed before. A false economic boom built on tax breaks and grants, on political pandering to builders and bankers has left much of the country in despair and the rest following their forefathers out of the country in search of work.
And yet Ireland can still work its magic. The majority of people are friendly and welcoming to strangers. Even in brash Dublin with its gun crime and in-your-face alcohol and drugs issues there are good, honest communities who welcome you in. Ireland’s towns are, on the whole, quiet, peaceful and relaxed. Visit the west and south-west and you can still find the Ireland of long ago and the one that lives in popular imagination.
And yes, there is no better end to the day than settling down in a friendly bar with a Guinness and listening to two or three musicians tuning up before launching into a merry jig, slide or reel.
Have a great day but don’t expect to see me in a funny hat.