St Patrick, a man before his time


Even though St Patrick's Day has not yet arrived, I have already received several cards and messages. Some came the old-fashioned way, delivered by the postman, but most were like my friend Colleen's, the virtual variety, and arrived with a "ping' in my inbox.

Colleen's card, animated by leaping leprechauns, proffered a self-styled "auld Irish blessing":

May you have
No frost on your spuds,
No worms on your cabbage.
May your goat give plenty of milk.
And if you inherit a donkey,

May she be in foal.

Colleen's not Irish, she's an Aussie of Irish descent, interested in and proud of her heritage and she does what she can to sustain it.

But her virtual Ireland doesn't exist any more, if it ever did. I told Colleen about some of the significant recent developments in the real Ireland including the Sinn Fein vote in January to support policing in Northern Ireland — a first in the party's history.

Gerry Adams summed up the decision to support the forces of law and order in nationalist areas as having created the potential to change the political landscape of Ireland forever. Full political and community support for policing will in theory benefit the whole community.

We've also talked about the importance of the forthcoming elections to the Regional Assembly at Stormont in Belfast, which will culminate in the formation of a power-sharing Executive by 26 March.

And of course, we talked about how Ireland slaughtered the English in the rugby at Croke Park. This stadium's history almost gives it  the status of a sacred site: it is the home of gaelic games, all foreign games being outlawed here. In 1920, 14 spectators at a Gaelic football match here were killed by British forces, and one stand, Hill 16, was built using rubble from the 1916 Easter Rising. So in the lead-up to the match there was some disquiet about how British national anthem would be received.

"An Irish army band playing 'God Save the Queen' at Croke Park!" chortled Colleen, "Was there a terrible barney?" - but of course there wasn’t.

You could hear a pin drop while they played it, and then the crowd applauded. It's a new Ireland now, I reminded her – educated, multicultural, aware. I pulled out a newspaper cutting and read Gordon D'Arcy's words after the game: "You always respect your opposition's anthem. So, great respect for 'God save the Queen' – and then when our anthems came, they boomed it out. That's the proper way to do it. I can't imagine how the English felt."

Her relief at these sentiments turned to pride when she heard how the Irish team had gone on to score a record number of points against an English side in 124 years of championship rugby. St Patrick would be proud too, I remarked.

""St Patrick??" she queried, "Didn’t he spend half his life on the side of a mountain minding sheep, and the other half trying to set up monasteries and convert the pagan masses?"

Yes, he had a first hand experience of slavery, and of the long, hard struggle to bring about change. He had dealt with a few slippery creatures in his time too. Then I reminded her how he used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity, and asked if she could think of a better emblem of multicultural co-existence.

Colleen smiled, and lifted her glass, and proposed a toast to St Patrick - the man before his time:

May you always find blue skies above your head
And shamrocks beneath your feet,
Laughter and joy aplenty,
Kindness from all you meet...
Good friends and kin to miss you
If ever you choose to roam,
And a path that's been cleared by the angels themselves
To carry you safely home.

I'll drink to that! Slanthe!



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Existing comments

It's always tempting to explain a situation in political terms, since the logic seems pretty straightforward.

Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales are intertwined in history, and it's only through analysing history from both sides that you can understand what Ireland is all about.

So, for a true perspective, you need to analyse ethnic and political history back for a thousand years, and it gets pretty horrific around the 16th century, and that's when you begin to understand the Irish psyche.

To be honest, it's far better to start with the leprechauns and work on from there, because it's in the fun and the mythology that the true spirit of the people begins to appear.

As a nation, we Irish are very passionate for fairness and justice and quite unusually distasteful of violence and war. I mean, in case you didn't know, the north of Ireland troubles were about your ethnic/cultural identity, and nothing to do with any sort of religious war.

So, since Australia is 35% Irish (at least), let me tell you, yes, we're at peace, yes we have motorways, megalithic tombs, capuccino bars, broadband, too much TV, sushi, have a pluralistic, tolerant, multiracial, multiethnic society, a female president, some undestroyed castles still standing, bad comedians, good rock bands, friendship with UK, famous actors, a high tech economy, a great educational system, rows of identical dreadfully expensive little houses, global warming and a great many other things.

That's more like Ireland nowadays, but we've gotten used to it by now. Pretty good for our size, but not New York. Our population has still not recovered to the level it was at in 1840.

So, yes. Forget about real life, and start with the poetry, because you know what? Human feeling is what life is really all about. That is why the country has inspired hearts and imaginations, because it has been associated with passion, warmth, fun, honour, peacefulness, welcome for all, and undomitable spirit.

That's the country I choose to live in.

Emmet | 22 July 2007

Umm what? I'm looking for his spiritual conversion not your life story about him...
Ummmm | 28 January 2009


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