A shared St Patrick’s Day in Downpatrick

Madame Oui and I were disciplined enough to get up in time for the early morning ecumenical service at St Patrick’s Church in Saul. We parked our car in Downpatrick and boarded a bus shuttle service, noticing straight away the high numbers of young Americans amongst us.

It turned out that there were actually more of them than us. The diocese has a twinning with another in Albany, New York.

They contributed to the huge overflow of parishioners at St Patrick’s Church. Madame Oui and I were luck to be able to sit inside, where we quickly got talking to our neighbours in the pew.

Now, everyone was aware of the controversy in this year’s cross-community parade at Downpatrick, where political consensus broke down on the issue of which flags to officially display.

In years past, Down District Council distributed miniature flags of St Patrick (red cross on white field) and of the council itself (green and purple with logo in centre), I don’t recall seeing any large flags presented at the head of the parade in years past.

So, at the start of the service at St Patrick’s Church, the Church of Ireland Bishop, Rt Rev. Harold Miller, joked that if we couldn’t see him in the parade procession later today, it may be because they would be surrounded by a “sea of tricolours”!

The sermon was delivered by Mr Dominic Breen, a senior teacher at Assumption Grammar School. He described in particular the prayer group work he is involved with, and how that represents a form of unity of diversity.

Afterwards, the vast majority of us made the pilgrimage walk to Down Cathedral, stopping a few times along the way for brief open-air prayers and reflections. It was gracefully sunny and fine weather, making the walk all the more pleasant.

20110317 St Patrick’s Day Pilgrimage from Mr Ulster on Vimeo.

At the cathedral, again Madame Oui and I were lucky to find seats in the well packed cubicles. I sat behind a pillar with limited view, but sure so long as I could hear the service I was confident I would get the message all the same.

And the message was “A Shared Past, A Shared Future”. The address was given by Rt Rev. Norman Hamilton, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. I was very impressed with his moral arguments for each of us to take concrete action in realising a cohesive society.

20110317 Down Cathedral – A Shared Past A Shared Future – Norman Hamilton by Mr Ulster

Rev. Hamilton made Biblical reference to the Samaritans, and rightly so. Many (if not most) people believe the expression “a good Samaritan” is a benign, polite expression. Well, its origins was meant to be provocative, in that even a Samaritan — unliked by the Jewish people — was willing to help an injured Jew (inferring that would a Jew come to the aid of a Samaritan in need).

Specifically, the reading was Luke 9:51-55, where disciples James and John asked Jesus whether they He should smite the Samaritans for not accommodating Him in His passage to Jerusalem. No, “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to to save them.”

Thus, Christians, if they are to be true to the word of God, do not get to pick and choose whom they wish to save.

The moral imperative is clear, and was underlined in the sending out response:

We commit ourselves
To make the ministry of reconciliation a priority in our prayers
To build relationships of trust and mutual respect with those from whom we differ
To work for justice for all, not just those with whom we identify as belonging to “our” community
To support all who build peace and promote reconciliation in our divided society

We joined a post-service catered feed of Irish stew and apple pie in a large canopy. I am always very impressed with efficiency of service — “No one has starved on us yet,” said Bishop Miller — and conviviality. It is one of my favourite parts of celebrating St Patrick’s Day.

After this spiritual and dietary sustenance, we went down to the main street for the imminent parade. The pre-parade entertainment was provided by “Flash Harry” aka Harry Hamilton, new Alliance Party election candidate. I met him when he was wearing a suit at the party’s conference; here he was in Queen mode, white tanktop and theatrics. I have to confess, Flash Harry puts on a very good show!

And here we go with the parade. How would everyone react to the display of the tricolour?

20110317 St Patrick’s Day Tricolour from Mr Ulster on Vimeo.

Well, Councillor Eamon McConvey was proudly holding the 3’x5′ flag, accompanied by an Irish wolfhound. Madame Oui and I thought emcee Julian Simmons (UTV) handled the situation well, when he called for the crowd to give an applause for the wolfhound!

Honestly, I counted about two persons and one family who brandished tricolours from the crowd. Episode lasted about 15 seconds, then the rest of the colourful parade proceeded.

In my opinion, Councillor McConvey may have prevailed with his right to express his political opinion, but thankfully the greater public audience of near 20,000 just wanted to enjoy the festivities.

An Irish nationalist could interpret this as, “See, what’s the problem displaying a tricolour?” But from the television vox pop interviews, the common response was more akin to “Catch yourself on.”

I think both fervent nationalists and unionists risk alienating themselves from the public even further by such antics.

Madame Oui and I certainly enjoyed the entire day, and were cream crackered (knackered) by the time we got home.

And all this without consuming any alcohol — how did we skip that Guinness?

  • Greenflag

    Mike 1 ,

    ‘Using the Tricolour for an occasion which is supposed to be for all the people of the island actively excludes NI unionists from said occasion, given that’

    Actively ? Waving the tricolour or painting it on your face are not compulsory . St Patrick’s Day is a national and indeed international festival . The Tricolour is a recognized symbol of Ireland and things Irish all around the world . I would think that non nationalists in NI would be perfectly capable of waving the St Patricks Cross assuming waving the Tricolour would prove stomach churning .

    The Tricolour is the flag of some 5 million people on this island . The fact that the other million choose to wave the Union Jack on their ‘national ‘day is their business and their perfect right . I would never suggest to any non nationalist NI person that they should not wave their ‘national emblem’ on the 12th July because it might or could offend Irish Nationalists.

    ‘and you’re just playing dumb.’

    If I am it’s because of the nature of the competition and the rules of the ‘coloured cloth wars game ‘ 🙁

  • 241934 john brennan

    An extract from SF’s South Down election manifesto.

    SINN FEIN WILL PROVIDE STRONG AND EFFECTIVE TO:

    a. “Defend the progress made through the peace process – stand up to those who would drag us back to the divisions and conflict of past”
    b. “Build reconciliation between our communities based on understanding and mutual respect”

    To the impartial observer:
    Item a. indicates that Sinn Fein will oppose so-called Dissident Republicans

    Item b. Indicates that Sinn Fein’s election candidates will do as it says on the tin – by not marching with a tricolour at the head of an agreed cross-community parade, expecting protestant primary school children, DUP Councillors etc to fall in behind.

    Would any impartial observer of the parade not reasonably conclude that the marching Sinn Fein election candidates are all Dissident Supporters? Also given that the SF manifesto was issued prior to the parade, would same impartial observer be blamed for judging Sinn Fein’s’ fine words as hypocrisy.

  • Alf

    “If you are a historian tell when catholisism was banned in Britain..

    Why is it that the prime minister cannot be cathoilc..

    Why the sovereign cannot be nor married to a catholic..

    Why a catholic would want to be part of a state where they are the only faith or ethnic group to which this applies?

    I know the historical reasons but in the 21st Century?”

    andnowhat,

    Catholicism was never banned in Britain.

    The Prime Minister can be a Catholic.

    There is nothing to stop the Sovereign from marrying a catholic.

    It doesn’t apply.

    What possible relevance does any of this have toi naked Sinner sectarianism?

  • Alf

    “..the tricolour is the flag of the great majority of Irish people and as such will always have a special significance on St Patricks day. If unionists demand cultural sterility as the price of their participation on St Patricks day, then maybe they should stay at home.”

    Creating an Ireland of equals.

    ROFLMAO

  • SK

    The presence of a solitary tricolour at a Paddy’s day parade is an equality issue now?

    Touchy, touchy unionists. Amazing how all that talk of equality goes on the back-burner when it’s time to whip the sashes out.

  • Alf

    “The presence of a solitary tricolour at a Paddy’s day parade is an equality issue now?

    Touchy, touchy unionists. Amazing how all that talk of equality goes on the back-burner when it’s time to whip the sashes out.”

    Obviously the entire concept of an all inclusive St Patrick’s day parade is utterly beyond you. You genuinely believe that the British born St Patrick is soley the preserve of the nationalist brand of Irish don’t you?

  • Mike the First

    Greenflag

    I still think you’re playing dumb but I’ll bite again.

    This line from you says it all:

    “The Tricolour is a recognized symbol of Ireland and things Irish all around the world”

    NI unionists like myself are not what you might call fans of the flag of the Republic of Ireland being passed off as a symbol of the island of Ireland. In fact we’re opposed to attempts to do that, in case you hadn’t noticed.

  • SK

    “Obviously the entire concept of an all inclusive St Patrick’s day parade is utterly beyond you. You genuinely believe that the British born St Patrick is soley the preserve of the nationalist brand of Irish don’t you?”

    Cultural inclusivity and and culutral sterility are not the same thing.

    It is wrong for unionists to declare that the Irish flag must be hidden from view before they participate in a celebration of Irishness. That demand is not made anywhere else in the world; to me, it is a manifestation of unionist insecurity/bitterness/intolerance that is simply not worth entertaining.

    You claim to be as British as Finchley. The fact that Finchley can tolerate the odd tricolour on Paddy’s day but you can’t suggests otherwise.

  • Alf

    “It is wrong for unionists to declare that the Irish flag must be hidden from view before they participate in a celebration of Irishness.”

    Ireland is partitioned and six counties of it are a part of the United Kingdom. The Irish flag you refer to does not represent those six counties. The Union flag does.

    Not all Irish people subscribe to the Tricolour and a substantial number of them want no truck with it whatsoever. St patrick, the British saint, represents all of Ireland and not just the Tricolour supportive part. Therefore an all inclusive St patrick’s day parade should have either both flags or neither.

    Your position is that St patrick is for nationalists and republicans only. If the Sinners of Downpatrick want that then they need to come out and say it. Pretending that the Triclour is all inclusive, as the inarticulate knuckle dragger in question did, is nonsense.

  • Alf

    “You claim to be as British as Finchley. The fact that Finchley can tolerate the odd tricolour on Paddy’s day but you can’t suggests otherwise.”

    Finchley has not been bombed into rubble or suffered almost four thousand deaths from a terrorist campaign.

  • SK

    “The Irish flag you refer to does not represent those six counties. The Union flag does.”

    Nor does the Irish flag represent New York or London, but you don’t hear Boris Johnson or Michael Bloomberg kicking up the kind of intolerant stink that Downpatrick is faced with. This is because they are capable of showing tolerance for things that they don’t usually identify with. You are not.

    How would you like to celebrate our common Irishness on St Patrick’s day Alf?

  • SK

    “Finchley has not been bombed into rubble or suffered almost four thousand deaths from a terrorist campaign.”

    London and Birmingham have witnessed their fair share of republican terrorism. Perhaps they’re just bigger people over there?

  • Alf:

    A substantrial amount of (evangelical) Irish do not believe in St Patrick or any other saint.
    Parades on St Patrick’s day are an American invention, done to protest at discrimination against Irish RCs in New York and other places.
    Most parade I know of have a strong Itrish nationalist dimension. One of the most famous such marches was in 19230 in Melbourne when tens of thousands of ex servicemen, many of whom were VC winners, saluted Daniel Mannix, Dev’s great friend who was later arrested by a British war ship off the coast of Ireland.

    You mention the RIR and other terrorist groups in connection with March 17th, And yes, the British Armed forces have a long history and involvment in same. Drowning the shamrock, giving their Irish cannon fodder Dutch courage was an integral part of it. Wellington remarked on more than one occasion that his Irish troops were drunkards. But such things should not be commemorated.

    The Irish won a good rugby match yestersay against the “ancient foe”. Landsdowne had plenty of tricolours nad many more insipid green flags. The Irish, led by the GAA playing Brian O’Driscoll, won the day. Most players could sing the Irish national anthem. Those who couldn’t offered it up to the Lord and thought of the matter in hand.

    All of the rugby team could rise to the occasion and the English took it on the chin, as their manager gamely said.

    How awful to go from Landsdowne’s highs to tiny minds who gget their knickers in a twist over nothing.

    http://shop.ebay.co.uk/?_from=R40&_trksid=p5197.m570.l1313&_nkw=british+union+jack+mat&_sacat=See-All-Categories

    Here is your flag being insulted, being used by ***(* to wipe their feet on. What a bore.

  • qwerty12345

    Alf Garnett wrote: “St patrick, the British saint”

    ahem.

    You mean St. Patrick the Romanised “Celt”

    try not to apply your hang ups to the period before King Billy, theres a good lad.

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    Oh dear qwerty your “olive branch” seems to have morphed into a cudgel.

    Can’t say that I’m surprised you’ve reverted to type. If your “fig leaf” is so transparent you might as well dispense with it. There’s a good lad.

  • Procrasnow

    The Act of Settlement 1701 provided that the throne would pass to the Electress Sophia of Hanover – a granddaughter of James VI of Scotland, I of England, niece of Charles I of Scotland and England – and her Protestant descendants who had not married a Roman Catholic; those who were Roman Catholic, and those who married a Roman Catholic, were barred from ascending the throne “for ever”

    Surely bringing ‘christianity’ to Ireland was a crime against humanity. The man PATRICK should not be remembered or celebrated. He should be confined to the history books.

    One lesson we all should have learned from the recent past, ie the dentist preacher and the sunday school teacher, Heavens protect us from devout Christians

  • andnowwhat

    Ok, I’ll be accused of whataboutery but it is not what I intend, more that this and the othe rblog reminds me of the issue.

    Here, in Newtownabbey, we have a civic leader who attends (apparently) UDA bicep flexes such as le

  • andnowwhat

    Oops. Pressed the button by mistake.

    ….such as a leading politician who attends loyalist commemorations where rounds are fired in the air and they flex their muscles?

    Tommy something I think.