The 17th of March signifies so much for me; obviously being Irish it’s filled with all the razzmatazz of our national holiday. However it wasn’t always such a glitzy affair; long before it was recognised as a the proverbial tourism pot of gold, St. Patrick’s Day was a temperate holy day of obligation. However, I like to think that despite the current big-budget blitz, its essence as our national day is as strong as ever.
When I was a kid we viewed St. Patrick’s Day as welcome break in the sweet and sugar drought that is the forty long days and nights of Lent. The church (or at least so we had convinced our pre-teen selves) granted a special dispensation in honour of St. Patrick and preordained a pause in the purgatory of Lenten sacrifice. We carefully stashed all sugary treats acquired since Ash Wednesday, and prayed for Easter to be late so the stash would have time to appreciate into the sizable hoard. The best results were to be found in the years when the 17th of March fell in the middle of Lent. The worst were when it fell on the candy-desert that is Good Friday or even worse the pre-stash Ash Wednesday!
Now, with the practice of Lenten abstinence long behind me, lost in the mist of many of my childhood observances, I still look on the 17th of March as a day to pause and reconnect. Work stops and the family comes together round the table, we still like to cook local food and with March being a month with an ‘R’ it’s still the season to indulge in a few native oysters from Galway Bay. We raise a glass in thanks for the year gone by, we honour the memory of those who have left us to the toast of ‘go mbeirimid beo ar an am seo aris’ – It’s a favourite one in our house and roughly translates as: may we all be alive and well this time next year. I think it really captures the Irish national tendency for fatalism and reminds us to live for the moment.
With two kids of my own, I really enjoy laying down St. Patrick’s Day traditions for them to build upon. They spend a lot of time in school preparing for the day, making flags complete with shamrocks, learning the life story of St. Patrick and lamenting the torture he endured while tending sheep on those cold barren slopes of Siabh Mis. It’s all so endearingly familiar. Of course, we never miss the parade; well it would be a crime since it starts on our street! It’s a huge comfort to my niggling nostalgia that the parade hasn’t changed a bit since I was small. It’s still a rag-tag collection of local groups, GAA clubs, a mix of both the musically-challenged and the most polished of marching bands with literally everything from visiting fire chiefs from Philly to tractor salesmen from Tourmakeady!
I remember marching with my local camogie club – legs blue with the cold but proud as punch until we were mortified by the jeers from the boys we knew who spotted us in the crowd! I smile now as my kids eye the marchers with envy, seeing them as the epitome of glamour. It may sound corny, but to me the real meaning of St. Patrick’s Day is all about feeling part of something: a wider community with shared bonds and traditions. Sure there are the cynics and good luck to them, but it’s in the marking of these traditions that we build a life, a bedrock on which to lay the foundation for feeling connected to the world around us and I for one, wouldn’t change it for the world.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day where ever you are in the world and I hope the ties that bind you to this tradition enrich your life with the sense of belonging to this most diverse and dynamic of tribes.
Beanachtaí na Féile Pádraig!
This guest post was submitted by Ann Brehony. Ann is the author of the family-friendly Ireland: Are We There Yet? iPhone/iPad App. The App is available on iTunes and Android, and you can also find more information on Ann’s Facebook page.