St Patrick’s Day a time to reflect on an openness that, at its best, Englishness encourages

For St Patrick’s Day Mark Perryman outlines the meaning of the forthcoming Easter Rising Centenary for models of Britishness.

St Patrick’s Day across England has always been more of a party than our own St George’s Day. Down the local, one of the best night outs of the year, a non-stop evening drenched in all things Irish.

A celebration of Ireland’s freedom, which can never be entirely separated from its place in English, and British, history either. But the framing of our Britishness via its relationship to Ireland has to be accounted for by factors that lie beyond the narrowly political.

St Patrick’s Day is a moment to reflect on an openness that, at its best, Englishness encourages. The clue is in the hyphen, Anglo-Saxon. Beyond the body politic music, literature, film and sport are spaces where a particular version of Irishness has been embraced.

From punk icons Stiff Little Fingers to the Pogues, Sinead O’Connor and the Corrs via the Hothouse Flowers to the mega-success of U2 this is a cultural insurgency that cannot be lightly discounted.

Roddy Doyle, particularly with his Barrytown trilogy of novels transformed for a generation what Irish identity might look like. Full of humour yet he never loses sight of where his characters came from nor what Ireland had been through to get them there.

This summer, in the year of the 1916 Easter Rising Centenary, Northern Ireland and the Republic will both compete, together and independently of one another, in a major football tournament for the first time.

At Euro 2016 there will be two ‘Green and White Armies.’ There’s some history here, not apart from the politics and yet affected by it, and shaping the political in return too.

Northern Ireland made it to World Cup ’82 in Spain, with Martin O’Neill a star of the team who now manages the Republic. They were there in Mexico four years later too for World Cup’86.

Then the Republic kind of took over, Euro ’88, Italia 90, World Cup ’94 , managed by Englishman Jack Charlton, one of the heroes of the England ’66 World Cup-winning team.

Charlton, of course, in his selection policy excelled in the bending of who can and can’t ‘represent’ Ireland but something more important than who would wear the green was perhaps underway.

As the troubles in Northern Ireland edged their way towards an unfolding peace process – on the pitch and in the stands what it meant to be Irish and what Ireland might become was being transformed.

But there remain those who would prefer to rewrite their own history. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were on Labour’s back benches when the IRA’s military campaign was in full and lethal swing.

Layout 1They were amongst the few who at the time argued that what was needed was a political solution and this must include both a dialogue with those behind the bombing and the ending of injustices dished out.

They were demonised as ‘terrorist sympathisers’ then.

A Tory Party that seems to have forgotten John Major’s role in initiating the peace process is clearly gearing up to use those self-same smears now against a Labour Leader and his Shadow Chancellor some thirty years later.

In Irish politics meanwhile we have seen the emergence of the civic nationalism of Sinn Fein, first mostly in the North but now increasingly in the South too.

An anti-austerity party that sits in the European Parliament with the European United Left alongside socialist and communist parties is a very different proposition to what might have been imagined was possible at the height of the Provos campaign in the 1980s.

And in the 2016 Irish General Election alongside the election of Sinn Fein TDs anti-austerity TDs were also elected while the Irish Labour Party continued its woeful decline or Pasokification.

Sinn Fein and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit alliance don’t entirely share the same politics but what they do have in common is a militancy they claim as a shared inheritance from Easter 1916.

A centenary is an excuse, of course, for looking back and that search for meaning is always contested, or, at least, it should be. We should be able to account for the cultural shifts in how Irish national identity is shaped, to understand the politics of Sinn Fein and others’ civic nationalism.

It is, however, the factors that created the conditions for a political solution in place of a military strategy in these troubled times that demand the most careful revisiting of all.

This year’s St Patrick’s Day for many will be the prelude to the Easter Rising Centenary celebrations just a week and a bit later. The connections between the popular culture of a night out and a political legacy will never have been more obvious.

Dublin today is a serious competitor to Barcelona and Prague as amongst budget airline travellers’ favourite European destinations for a city break, another instance of the connections between the cultural and the political.

Many will visit O’Connell Street to take a snap of the iconic Dublin General Post Office. But of course, this isn’t simply a splendid example of late Georgian architecture nor merely a handy place to post a postcard home. It was the HQ in 1916 for the men and women who fought in the Easter Rising.

This is a rebel city, a rebel culture, a rebel country that was to break the Union. Ahead of the rising across the front of Dublin’s Liberty Hall, home of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, a banner was hung ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser but Ireland.

This was the nature of that break, the cause of self-determination and independence.

Yet as Fintan O’Toole has pointed out some quarter of a million Irishmen fought in the First World war on the British side and during the course of the Rising 570 Irish soldiers lost their lives on the Western Front following a particularly lethal German gas attack.

So that breakage is complicated, it was partial and while some defined their nationalism as ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ whatever their motives and intentions, others didn’t.

Plough & Stars for tweetToday a faith-based politics is of decreasing importance in present-day Ireland as evidenced by the Republic’s referendum vote in favour of equality in marriage for Lesbians and Gay men.

It was James Connolly’s vision that ‘the Irish people will not be free until they own everything from the plough to the stars.’ It is this vision that more than anything should frame how we celebrate Easter 1916.

As a very Irish moment when the human potential of freedom and equality was most evident and could never be extinguished whatever the scale and might of the forces ranged against it.

To that all of us, Irish or not, should gladly raise a glass on Thursday night.

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Philosophy Football’s Easter 1916 T-shirt range, 20% off until the end St Patrick’s Day quote coupon code Easter 2016 at checkout. The T- shirts are available from

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Apologies for sounding like the party pooper but I struggled with this opening line of a sentence “A celebration of Ireland’s freedom…”


    A celebration day started by the British army in America which then became a day embraced by an Irish-American equivalent of the Orange Order and then a day subjected to the Roman Catholic church’s rules (in Ireland) and is now a flagship day for both Diageo and Bord Failte is somehow a celebration of Ireland’s freedom?

    I’ve celebrated most of my St Patrick’s day parties in countries other than Ireland or Northern Ireland (it’s much easier to enjoy them abroad from a unionist point of view in my experience) but never once have I thought of it as anything to do with ‘freedom’.

    The rest of the article is grand I I’m sorry for being THAT guy but that part of the post did baffle me.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Have to agree with you on that one, doesn’t have anything to do with freedom it’s basically a party to which everyone is invited if they wish to join in, no Irishness actually required.

    It is incredible that such a small country should have such such an international reputation and one that in the main ( drinking aside ) is positive.

    Some of the English tend to amuse me around this time of year when they start moaning about St Paddy’s day celebrations.

    ” What about St Georges day? ” is the cry, to which my retort is ” What about it? What’s stopping you celebrating it?

    No one has come up with an answer thus far.

  • Greenflag 2

    St George only slew one dragon and did’nt drive out the rest as he had to go on a tea break and in any event was not a multi dragon slayer , St Patrick did drive out the snakes from Ireland or so we are told Some say they have since returned disguised as legal and banking professionals and even as clergy and politicians and even as Trinitarians but known as the Troika a shady group from somewhere near Switzerland or Belarus wherever that is -but there has been no actual evidence that could be used in a court of law that could be used to re-expel them . The Great Skydaddies of Wall St and the City protect them from the wrath of the likes of Blessed Bernie Sanders and his ilk not excluding the noose waving former hangman sorry Mayor of London Sir Hang One a Week Livingstone 😉

    Not much is known about St George other than his swordplay except he did’nt speak Latin or even English and was reputedly monolingual in Armenian or Georgian .

  • Greenflag 2

    “It was James Connolly’s vision that ‘the Irish people will not be free until they own everything from the plough to the stars.”

    Does that include the Hubble Telescope -the International Space Station and all planets between here and Betelgeuse a mere 50,000 light years distant ???
    Perhaps you meant to write ‘stairs ” But which stairs would they be -the backstairs or the front stairs

    Enjoy the day wherever you are and do try and make it up those stairs 😉

  • Anglo-Irish

    I thought he was Turkish he was apparently disbarred from sainthood by the Catholic church on the grounds he was mythical, which would basically get rid of most of them I would have thought.

    St Patrick on the other hand was never canonised in the first place!

  • Anglo-Irish

    As there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the earth, and seeing as how Ireland is the only country in Europe never to have set out to steal another mans land, I think James Connolly was being a little over ambitious on that one.

  • Greenflag 2

    Sometimes AG you are a brilliant exposer of bunkum and rubbish but sometimes you need to expand the thinking and go beyond the limits of traditional time and period conventional thinking . St Patrick or to be accurate the many missionaries who ”converted ‘ the Irish pagans to Christianity did bring freedom to the then inhabitants of the land of Erin but he also brought mass unemployment for many . Back in those days the people of Ireland and indeed in other non Christianised regions of Europe such as Germany and Scandinavia and Russia worshipped multiple Gods . There was a God of the Sea -Mannanan Mac Lir and the great God Dagda and many others each tasked with a specific duty of care . And then this Patricius Brit pitches up and without as much as a bye your leave downsizes the lot and reduces them to just the One Deity . Of course theses Christians had pulled the same stunt on the Romans a few centuries earlier with some success . They came up against one King in Ireland however who refused to be taken in by these religious consultants and who sensibly enquired how exactly could One God do everything that needed to be done when previously hundreds of Gods were needed for the multivarious deeds needed to keep the world going around -the rain falling the sun shining the salmon leaping the trees shading etc etc .

    But Patricius had been to Project Trinity Engineering school in Londinium and had completed long division and fractions a difficult task in Roman numerals . So he replied to the King that there was’nt just one God but there were Three Persons in the One God . Temporarily relieved the bould King remembering his lack of fractional knowhow said but how can you have three in one for Baal’s sake ? We all know one is one and two is two and three is three and after three comes eh oh yes lots .

    So Patricius the Brit/religious consultant bent down and picked up a green leafed trefoil ( Shamrock ) and said to the King -You can have three persons in the one God just as you have three leaves on the one stem of this weed ? See !

    BIngo – Enlightenment -the lights came on and King Laoghaire was sold Christianity hook line and sinker and moreover had just discovered fractions and now also felt a bit relieved that the one God of the Christians had some back up help in the event of the workload becoming too onerous . He suspected that these extra persons were probably paid up members of the OGU (the old Gods Union ) who everybody knew were only interested in shorter hours and more money . Still he thought probably cheaper at the price than several hundred of the buggers who were forever demanding their share of offerings since the dawn of time .

    I trust you are still baffled AG enjoy the day if you can and if you can’t so be it 😉 Look on the bright side -You are free to do either .

  • Greenflag 2

    I did’nt get to where I am today by knowing the difference between a Turk a Georgian or an Armenian , But I do know that none are renowned for their Russophilia which reaches a world nadir in those regions and probably even lower than in Warsaw or Tallinn.

    Not canonised ? Well I did suggest he was a religious consultant and he gets the titular St moniker from me based on custom and practice and we all know it’s a story based in or on ? licensed premises .

  • Greenflag 2

    Perhaps he was just a little . Still the Hubble telescope would be good 🙂

  • Croiteir

    I think you mean the first St Patrick’s Day parade as St Patrick’s day was celebrated long before that.

  • Croiteir

    George – Born in Cappadocia, returned to Palestine with his mother after his father died, martyred in Palestine under Diocletian, canonised by Pope Gelasius. Note that George gets a cross as he was martyred, Patrick has no cross as he was not.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ah yes, indeed I do.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    I’m sorry I don’t see at all what that has to do with my comment.

    My comment was regarding the Irish freedom bit (and i wasn’t the only one).

    I’m no expert in Patrick (well, ‘both Patricks’ as it were ) but i’m familiar with most of what you wrote.
    But again I don’t see how it’s relevant to my point regarding the day being about ‘Irish freedom” and your explanation doesn’t mention it once.

    But yes, i plan to have fun today anyway.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I’m surprised a drink’s company hasn’t jumped on st George’s day.
    If it became a thing it would be immensely profitable.

    What would be the English drink of choice as it were? (Anything but carling!).

  • Anglo-Irish

    CARLING!!! Bloody hell man don’t be using blasphemy on this auspicious day!

    Beer is the only drink to celebrate St Georges day and there is a huge variety available.

    There has been a significant increase in the number of micro breweries in recent years

    They’ve actually left my favourite Thornbury brewery out of that and I’ve never heard of a couple of them.

    A few of the national ales are pretty good, John Smiths is normally reliable.

    Your right though it’s surprising that no one has ‘done a Guiness’ and marketed the day.

    There is a bit of a problem with patriotic Englishness in that the right wing nutjobs have done a good job of appropriating the St Georges flag.

    Shame really, I’m all for a bit of a ‘do’.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Which begs the question whats that red cross doing on the Union flag?

    Crafty buggers those Fitzgeralds.

  • Greenflag 2

    Religious Freedom don’t ya see ? Patrick and Palladius and the many others freed the then Irish from having to believe in hundreds of Gods and narrowing the field down to the 1 or 3 depending on how one views the Troika /Trinity .

    Try and forget the politics for the one day and forgive Mr Perryman his only inaccuracy in an otherwise thoughtful piece on the day thats in it . If my attempt at humour failed my apologies .

  • Greenflag 2

    The early Irish as far as we know did’nt create ‘martyrs ‘ from the missionaries . They were as far as I know given a ‘free hand ‘ to peddle their faith wherever they wanted . The fact that they were successful although it took a couple of centuries, tells us that just as Christianity triumphed over the local pagan religions in the Roman Empire during the three centuries to the Emperor Constantine the same consciousness or process was also underway in Britain and Ireland .

    In short there were just too many old Gods to make sense anymore to increasing numbers of people . The natural and mythological folk Gods of the Germans , Gauls Britons etc were passe .

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ah. I see.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well, there is spitfire ale and if i recall Bombardier (or something similar).

    And, although perhaps not the most marketable image there is Trooper beer on licence from iron maiden.

    I have to say i’m a big fan of the beer revolution, i think now of a misspent youth drinking Carlsberg and the like…

    Oh! Is theakston a Yorkshire brewery? I was quite partial to the Old Peculiar.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Yes Theakstons is based in Masham ( appropriately enough ) Ripon which is in North Yorkshire.

    A friend of mine has just taken early retirement from Wells brewery which makes Bombardier.

    The micro breweries are interesting although I can’t be doing with all that CAMRA stuff.

    Sometimes the quality can vary with the smaller brewers whilst the larger ones are consistent, at least if the manager knows his stuff.

    Yes it’s a pity about the low key St Georges day, I’ll be in Keswick for that weekend enjoying some of their local beers including Jennings which is nice.

    As it’s a popular tourist spot I imagine there will be some display of flags and bunting with maybe the odd oddball wandering about dressed as a crusader or maybe even a dragon!

  • Greenflag 2

    Ah I see , is good -suggests eyes have opened – Aha is even better it suggests not only seeing but actually getting it – Ahahahahahahahah a series of speeded up Ah’s sounds like laughter 😉 It’s the way you don’t tell them .

  • babyface finlayson

    And luckily we know what he said as he was driving the snakes out of Ireland:
    “Are yis alright in the back there lads?”

  • Greenflag 2

    And the snakes replied – ‘Are we nearly there yet and btw whats in those sealed brown envelopes marked ‘ Contents to rest in my newly opened account c/o Banco Ambrosiano – King Laoghaire , Slane Ireland ‘;)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Neither King for Kaiser” … Well, it was Kaiser, really, wasn’t it, in 1916? That was before the Fuehrer of course, Irish Republicans’ “Plan Kathleen” saw Ireland’s glorious future as being a puppet state run by them under Nazi oversight.

    Then we have “A Tory Party that seems to have forgotten John Major’s role in initiating the peace process is clearly gearing up to use those self-same smears now against a Labour Leader and his Shadow Chancellor some thirty years later.”
    Smears?!? Having been a Labour activist, I left the Labour Party over Corbyn’s election due to his appalling record of terrorist sympathising guff over many years – and it wasn’t all terrorists in Northern Ireland he supported of course, just the Catholic ones. Amoral *and* sectarian … And given the chance on Nolan last summer to condemn the IRA, he refused to do so without equating them with the security forces. From the transcript:

    SN: But do you condemn what the IRA did?
    JC: I condemn all bombing, it is not a good idea, and it is terrible what happened.
    SN: The question is do you condemn what the IRA did?
    JC: Look I condemn what was done by the British Army as well as the other sides as well. What happened in Derry in 1972 was pretty devastating as well.
    SN: Do you distinguish between State forces like the British Army and the IRA?
    JC: Well in a sense the treatment of IRA prisoners which made them into virtual political prisoners suggested that the British government and the State saw some kind of almost equivalency. I mean my point is that the whole violence was terrible, was appalling, and came out of a process that had been allowed to fester in Northern Ireland for a very long time and surely we can move on a bit and look towards the achievements of the peace process in moving things forward.
    SN: But if you are a potential candidate for the Prime Minister of the UK Jeremy it is fair for me to push you one more time. Are you prepared to condemn what the IRA did?
    JC: What it is fair to push me on is how we take the peace process forward …
    SN: Are you prepared to condemn what the IRA did?
    JC Can I answer the question in this way? We gained ceasefires, they were important and a huge step forward. Those ceasefires brought about the peace process, brought about the reconciliation process which we should all be pleased about. Can we take the thing forward rather than backward?
    SN: Are you refusing to condemn what the IRA did?
    JC: (RAILWAY NOISE) Sorry I couldn’t hear that.
    SN: (more noise) Are you refusing to condemn what the IRA did?
    JC: I feel we will have to do this later you know. (NOISE STOPS)

    I mean, wow – just wow.

    And it’s not like it was some aberration, Corbyn has a long history of supporting the IRA line, which dates way back to the height of the IRA killing, before there was any mention of them stopping. That’s why Nolan was questioning him on this stuff in the first place. He contributed nothing – nothing – to the peace process. He appears to have no independent thoughts of his own but basically mirrors whatever the IRA line is at any given time. I am yet to hear him disagree with Sinn Fein on anything. This despite supposedly regarding the SDLP as Labour’s “sister party” in NI – the SDLP has been highly critical of course of SF, its armed struggle and its failure to apologise to or compensate its tens of thousands of victims. Not to mention there’s actually a Labour Party in NI that Corbyn doesn’t support either. No, Corbyn prefers the IRA party. With such deeply offensive views on the horrific terrorism NI suffered for 30 years, Corbyn is unfit to be an MP, let alone Leader of the Opposition. And I write as a Labour Party supporter here.

    McDonnell, who has talked about Republican death squads as “heroic”, people who “should be honoured” if anything is worse. They are nut jobs on Ireland, sorry.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    hear hear – much easier to enjoy them over here.

    I have myself a “sleek pint of porter” in honour of St Patrick and ethnic stereotyping.

  • Tochais Siorai

    It’s like the perennial loser in the bookies.

    After the race is over he moans to the guy standing beside him ‘I was going to bet on that horse who won, you know.’

    His neighbour replies……. ‘Why didn’t you? Did the police stop you’?

  • Tochais Siorai

    Despite it’s very English image, Camra was founded in Kruger’s in Dún Chaoin in the Kerry Gaeltacht. The scenery might have inspired them…… or maybe the beer there was so bad they decided they had to do something about it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, AI, “clever buggers” those Burgundian “Tercios” at Kinsale…….

  • Anglo-Irish

    I never knew that.

    Were they all wearing anoraks, sporting beards and talking crap about ale, instead of just enjoying the stuff and talking crap about other things? Because that’s they way they carry on over here.

    Irish beer isn’t that good in my view probably because not enough people drink it to have it kept well and warrant a variety of brands.

    I always used to drink Guinness in Ireland but it’s a little heavy for me now so to my shame I swop to lager after a couple.

  • Anglo-Irish

    St Georges day celebrations? Yes they get on my nerves, if you want to celebrate go ahead, what’s the problem?