Good morning and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
I was born and raised in Watford (which has its own special set of ramifications that we can come back to another time), but I also have a lot of Irish heritage. I didn’t get some of the Irish genes that I would have liked -the gorgeous red hair and pale skin went to my little sister in this generation – but a lot of aspects of my personality are more Irish than Watfordian, such as my deep-rooted conviction that feeding people will solve everything.
I also have several Irish friends, and it is their perspective of this saint’s day that I would like to tell you about this morning. These friends have been brought up in Northern Ireland (or “Norn Iron”, if you like), but moved over to England for university. One of them stayed over here for a while and has only recently moved back to Belfast for a fantastic job, and another has just moved to Italy for a few months. They are passionate, talented and interesting people who are definitely going places, but who are also (quite rightly) proud of where they’ve come from.
Interestingly, the general consensus of their favourite St. Patrick’s Days has been their first one away from Ireland. I reckon the main reason for this is probably that they were at university with a whole new group of friends, and there is a novelty about today that we English like to maximise. (For instance, walk into any Asda in the country and look at the St. Patrick’s Day costumes they’ve got in store. Hey wow, as my friend Carly would say.) One of my friends said that she was overwhelmed by how many people turned up to her first Paddy’s Day party in England: “They also didn’t just turn up, everyone dressed up – the face paint was everywhere! It was brilliant craic!” I was at that party and it’s true, the face paint really took over the evening, and we had a great time.
Another friend of mine decided to use what he describes as the “It’s St. Patrick’s Day and I’m Irish, so bend to my will” card by persuading the staff at one of our uni bars to change the television channel: “I got…them to put the schools’ rugby final (a Northern Irish tradition, it’s quite a big deal) on the big screens. I then got my first few drinks in of the day while I watched my old school get thoroughly trounced. I washed down the disappointment and disgust with a few more beers. Then travelled to the late Rutherford bar [another drinking hole on campus] for a brunch of “traditional Irish stew”. (It was nothing of the sort. I mean, it was quite nice but nothing like mammy used to make…)”
When I asked my friends about the differences between celebrating St. Patrick’s Day over here and in Ireland, I got a very interesting set of responses: the biggest differences actually seem to be between Northern Ireland and the Republic, because of the Catholic/Protestant divide in Northern Ireland: “It isn’t an official bank holiday here like it is down South. Nevertheless, quite a few schools and businesses take the day off work.” I was also told that “in Ireland pretty much everything shuts down; transport, banks, schools etc. (Not the pubs. Obviously.) …I hear the Belfast and Dublin parties are pretty great (albeit the ones in Belfast can get a little hairy – St. Patrick’s Day is most definitely a Catholic holiday”. In terms of how the English celebrate this day, one of my friends made a very canny observation: “I think for England it’s a great day to drink like the Irish and get the craic going, leaving that old stiff upper lip behind for a day!” And who can argue with that?
Similarly, I got a very good explanation for why this day seems to be more popular than other UK patron saints’ days: “St Patrick’s Day is a whole lot of fun. Everyone around the world is familiar with the stereotype of what it is to be Irish (I’ve not been to a country yet where someone hasn’t piped up with the old “oh, you’re Irish, do you want a Guinness/potato/leprechaun?”) and more importantly, people like what that stereotype entails: being jolly, cracking jokes and getting drunk with your friends.”
I completely agree with my friends that today’s socially acceptable jollity is something that we English find appealing because it’s the perfect meeting point between our binge-drinking culture and our traditional self-control, and who can resist shunning their own stereotype for the day in order to adopt someone else’s (which is also a lot more fun)?
So today is a good time for celebration and fun, but what would my Irish friends like to change about this holiday? One of my friends has an excellent and touching St. Patrick’s Day wish: “I wish that all Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities throughout Northern Ireland who don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day due to it being associated with the Republic of Ireland and the Nationalist communities would come out and celebrate. It is a day that can unite us, whether you are Irish, Northern Irish, Catholic, Protestant or from a minority.”
Another friend of mine who has a slightly different set of priorities has made this impassioned plea: “If I could change one thing about the day it’d probably be this: hot girls with atrociously fake Irish accents get more free pints than genuine Irish guys desperate for another pint. There is something very wrong about this and I think someone really ought to do something.”
Have a brilliant St. Patrick’s Day everyone, and remember to drink your novelty green beer responsibly.