I posted most of this on my friend’s Facebook yesterday (St. Patrick’s day) and posted other parts, that I’ve included, in answer to other posts. I felt I should crosspost it to my blog, with some grammar corrections and a good bit of editorial cut and paste.
This is a dour post so, if you don’t fancy having your spirits dampened, stop now.
St. Patricks day is more important to foreigners as an excuse to drink than to the natives. We bred like rabbits once we’d reached dry land anywhere and it enables one to use the smirk inducing “everyone likes having a bit of irish in them” one-liner. I’ve used it and Jackson’s tried it too, on me once. It didn’t work. It shouldn’t work, no matter who uses it.
Most know St. Patrick’s day as a drinking fest where people wear green. For all the great poets, writers, playwrights, heroes and world changers my country has produced, looking like a disney leprechaun and indulging in heavy-drinking are what most of the world think of when it thinks of the Irish identity. To me, this is like saying that Italy, whose 150th birthday is shared with this year’s St. Patrick’s day, is nothing more than organised crime, amazing cooking, sitting around all day looking suave while drinking espresso and ogling women, etc. and ignoring the other 99.9999999% of what the country has produced that has little equal in the world, has indelibly shaped the western world and influenced too the rest of the world in profound ways. What a sad epitaph that is to find your culture trivialised as such. I had a conversation about this very same act of belittling national stereotyping after visiting Guanajuato in Mexico and seeing the statue on the hill over the town of the blacksmith who charged the spanish fort, thus allowing the uprising to take a first step towards the end of foreign rule.
The Irish are associated with drink because they drank to escape their lot as downtrodden penniless slaves in their own country for a good many hundreds of years. The habit becomes entrenched and is hard to break. The abject poverty and destitution that drove people to a culture of alcohol abuse is now celebrated as a lovable trait. Those people had it hard and then they had it worse. What they suffered is beyond my ability to imagine. Most of our folk ballads are about the injustices done and how we’re going to “show em”. We didn’t. We never did and we never will. My Granduncles know this because they were executed or killed in battle fighting in a failed revolution that hardly anyone joined. As soon as the British were gone, we fought ourselves. Our history reads like the diary of a 16 year old kid beaten up daily at school and abused at home since he was in the 2nd grade. The complexes run deep and are sewn into the national character. We look back and hold on to this trauma, forget the spirit of what people once wanted to accomplish and never question our use of what they achieved for us.
The Irish demonstrated their unity and cleverness when jumping to reap the benefit of great ideas sewn decades ago that they had then derided. Ideas that allowed Ireland to become one of the hottest economies in Europe. Bravo. The youth enjoy a high standard of education and are cheap workers so in came the assembly plants. Then came the foreign exchange houses and financial centers and who knows what else of companies enjoying the tax benefits. Then came the orgy of speculation and building. Every piece of land that could be grabbed was ripped up to build houses no one needed. Greed consumed so many who’d never had it so good before and this orgy of unprecedented, unregulated and unmanaged get-rich-quick and sell-your-granny-if-you-have-to madness ensued causing the economy to balloon out of all proportion and then dive faster than the Hindenburg when the crisis “happened”. Mismanaged and shortsighted are words that barely scratch the surface of an adequate summation.
When I go back to Dublin, it is not the city I left. I barely know it. No revolution has scarred it, no army occupies it, but the greed of bastards has levelled it, packed it up and sold it to line the coffers of foreigners. Bravo, again.
I will drink a shot or 2 tonight but I will drink to the memory of the great authors, playwrights and poets who became more resolute in who they were out of a feeling of detachment from the plebeians around them, who longed for the lightbulb to go on over a fair few people’s heads and who inspired me in my youth to remain true to who I am. I will think of the ancient myths and legends passed on to me by the elderly as a child that are my Country’s lore, of the cultures in prehistory who shaped the land and built remarkable structures before the Egyptians had begun planning the Pyramids, of the fact that she was once the light of the world and the land of saints and scholars in antiquity, of the astonishing beauty of her land, of the ghosts who haunt that troubled place and of the perpetually sweeping clouds that never abate in the unleashing of their rain. I will reflect upon 1000 years and more of tragedy caused by others and by the Irish themselves, upon the countless lives that were laid down in the distant past in the name of an idea of Irish Freedom and those who tragically became its victims on all sides. In all good conscience, I do not agree with many of the ideas and methods and actions of so many who stood under this banner of the cause of freedom. Violence only begot violence and no one wanted to stop when the fight had long been won. The damage had been too long compounded and the wounds and hurt ran too deep. Perhaps this lesson should be Ireland’s greatest legacy to the world. When the guns had been finally put down, we saw we were not so different after all from the ones we had been told to see as enemies. We were as flawed and fragmented as they were. Still, I wonder what the patriots, the revolutionaries, the tyrants, those forced to do their bidding and the unimaginable number of their victims would say now if they could see what has been done with this noble freedom. I will drink to this and so much more.
For me, and many others like me, St. Patrick’s Day is a day of reflection on a unique country of which I will be forever proud, no matter her many faults, failings and trespasses. I will get lost in the memory and romance of a country that, for me, will only exist in my imagination and my memory.
Beannachtaí na lá Féile Pádraig agaibh.
Is mise le meas,
Rónáin ó hEarchaí.