Sunday, 15 March 2015

'Celebrating' Ireland

Oh no! Here it comes again. Yes, it’s that semi-awkward time of year for all Irish-born people; St Patrick's Day (March 17), our national holiday.

Green is the colour for St Patrick's Day.
Time to get the silly leprechaun hats out ... (Image from Tourism Ireland.)
You see most Irish, from my experiences anyway, tend not to get too excited about things; we prefer to leave the fanfare and hyperbole to the Yanks, it’s what they’re good at. So when you have a day to celebrate all that's, um, good about our island and its people, things can get uncomfortable.

How do we normally cope? Well in not untypical fashion, drink alcohol-containing liquids and grin and bear it.

For in some quarters, which I kind of go along with, there's a feeling that events seem to have got a little bit out of hand, thanks in no small part to those aforementioned, flamboyant North Americans.

Now of course, for as long as I can remember and since I commenced downing the odd tipple whilst socialising, beer has always been part of this day.

Growing up in rural Ireland, you may have got a token parade in the local town, although it wasn't always a given, and perhaps some Irish football (or hurling) game (not soccer, American football nor rugby that is, we’re talking Irish football) to provide other entertainment. All very tame stuff really.

Also, in my early adolescent days and before, a trip to mass was obligatory. It is, after all, a feast day commemorating the man who supposedly brought Christianity to Ireland; a Welsh man at that. (You could say it's like Colombians venerating someone born in Venezuela. What's that? They do?!) Thus, at its root, it's a Christian church — both Protestant and Catholic — holiday.

Nowadays, though, in a more multicultural and, thankfully, somewhat inclusive Ireland, the day has broadened to become a festival of all things Irish, much less tied to religion.

Plus, a modern, confident Ireland — the current economic problems notwithstanding — has upped the ante in terms of how it's honoured. There’s a little bit more glitz involved now. And it’s not even just a one-day celebration any more; you’ve got a week-long festival in many of the country’s bigger urban centres. ‘Hey, there's money to be made from them there tourists!’

Downing a pint of Guinness on St Patrick's Day ...
Guinness time ... (Photo from Tourism Ireland.)
On the other hand a Bogotá St Patrick's Day, personally speaking and unsurprisingly, adheres to the more traditional, low-key affair i.e. it goes off without much fuss. A good reason for this is that not too many are aware of it; you wouldn’t expect them to be in any case. The Irish ‘Empire’ has its limits.

For the uninitiated, a trip to one of the 'Irish' pubs is a must, surrounded by some 'Plastic Paddy' types. However, for the Irish mates I have here, of the rare occasions such establishments are visited, this is the least likely day to find them (and me) there.

It’s more likely to be spent in a neutral location, with, hopefully, a can of Guinness or two if they can be sourced (something that has become harder to do in Bogotá these days), drinking to the day and badmouthing any silly gimmickry in its honour we witness.

So in a sense, like most other days; we just have an extra excuse to get merry.

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