Britain and Ireland: the Diaspora

Britain and Ireland launches it’s St Patrick’s Day edition. There’s an investigation of the real meaning of St Patrick and the migration of his feast day from a religious event to something emanently more global. In London it’s been pitched as a multicultural event. And yet here in Belfast, its tendency to divide is rarely far from the surface. We’re looking for Slugger readers to open the discussion on this before next week’s seminar when Sinn fein (Conor Maskey) and the DUP (Nelson McCausland) will be debating the nature of celebrations in Belfast.

  • Rory

    Growing up in the’50’s and 60’s in Co Down my experience was that St Patrick’s day was celebrated in a very low key. In the town of Downpatrick, reputed to hold Patrick’s grave, there was no celebration other than the celebration of a special mass in the Catholic church and of course the wearing of shamrock and men who liked a drink would go to the pub on a weekday. In the Anglican cathedral, where the gravesite is marked by a large granite stone, if there was a special celebration, it received little attention and I suspect that only High Anglicans, who were fairly sparse in Ulster, would have cared to mark the day. St Patrick, it then seemed to me, was deemed as suspicious, as probably a Fenian by the powers that be and “the other side”. But they seemed content to allow us to celebrate unhindered, providing always that there was no great overt display of nationalist ebullience and our tame masters in the Church and the Nationalist Party were only too willing to comply. They certainly didn’t want to rock the boat either.

    Later in my late teens and twenties when I celebrated in Dublin I was just as disappointed. The parade was organised by State and Church togther and there was a grim seedy air over it all and a decided lack of joie de vivre. I remember well spending one St Patrick’s Day (1972) in the bar of the Gresham Hotel getting blotto with a mad unfrocked revolutionary Marxist Catholic priest while an American tourist dressed in a bright emerald suit proudly displayed his wristwatch depicting a green map of Ireland with sham shamrock hands. (Good job there was no LSD in them days!).

    It was only when I came to London that I finally experienced the really joyous way that the Irish diaspora and their descendants celebrated our national feast day and my heart was uplifted.

    Sadly that now too has gone with all the commercialisation and the nauf “Irish” pubs with their long Paddy’s Day queues and admission charges and giant gombeen men’s hats and not a sweet traditional air or merry jig from real musicians to be heard. I am not, I hope, being curmudgeonly, I like to see all the young ones (and of all nationalities) join in their way of sporting and my sadness at the disappearance of traditional music pubs is compensated for when I see a display by Comhaltas Ceoltiri Eireann by a band featuring electric guitars, saxophones and all really wonderful innovations and a lineup that includes a young women dressed in modest Muslim attire play the fiddle to shame the devil while her Algerian husband looks on happily approving.

  • Harry Flashman

    I remember going on a school trip in 1984, we had to assemble at 8am on a Saturday morning which happened to be the 18th of March. Two friends looked a bit ropey and they explained they had been celebrating St Patrick’s day the night before, the rest of us looked at them in bemusement, we were 17 years old, who celebrated St Patrick’s day other than oul’ fellas down the pub?

    In 1986 I was in Dublin as a student, a few of us went into town thinking it would be a great laugh, instead we watched a dreary parade of non descript floats passing Trinity College. When we went for a drink we discovered that the pubs were shut from 2pm until 4pm. We wandered aimlessly until the pubs opened and got stuck into the Guinness in some pub in the North Inner City. Then a piper and drum major from an American band entered the bar and played some fantastic stuff for fifteen minutes. We cheered, bought them a drink and they went off to the next bar. We continued drinking until about 7pm and then went home.

    It’s worth bearing all this in mind when faced with the “New Ireland” of the Celtic Tiger, Jackie Charlton, U2, Riverdance, B*witched, Father Ted and all the Oirish Pubs with their ghastly “craic” spewed out around the world. History didn’t start in 1991.

    Ireland was a shitehole before that and don’t feckin’ forget it!!!

  • Rory

    I’m so pleased, Flashman, that you have found it to be such a paradise since 1991. To whom would you attribute this wonderful transformation from a former shitehole? Bertie? Gerry? Mr Quinn? Caprice? Bono? Father Jack?

    I think we should be told.

  • Harry Flashman

    Well I picked the rather arbitrary year of 1991 as it came from an earlier thread which said that this was the start of the Irish Pub Company.

    If credit must be given for the Celtic Tiger then it has to go to CJH for his fiscal rectitude in 1987 (we’ll not mention the bollix that he was up to before that) and to Alan Dukes for his sensible non opposition.

    The whole feel good era kicked in about the time of 1994 with Riverdance I suppose.

    I’m a cynical oul git and to be honest I have fond memories of cold damp St Paddy’s days with the Holy hour closing of the pubs. This new metrosexual Ireland doesn’t appeal to me if I’m honest.

  • Rory

    Your “a cynical oul git”. Damn! and there’s me thinking I was being even more cynical than you. Seems a fella just can’t win.