St. Patrick’s Day


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I know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath to hear about my St. Patrick’s Day, deep in the land of St. Patrick (although, not really, because, actually, St. Patrick was probably Welsh, so, in reality, the Welsh saved the Irish, what with that whole snakes thing, and yet, we’re still considered such a dull country and/or people, which really isn’t fair when you think about it, I mean we’re the ones who came up with eisteddfods and Bryn Terfel, so where would schools and the over-60s crowd be without us, let alone the Irish?) So, ANYWAY, I’ve finally decided to download the images from my camera and write down what it was all like.
Well, before you get too excited, I didn’t go to Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Festival, I didn’t even go in to Cork for their festival. I didn’t drink 12 Guinness and stay out til 5am, dancing in the streets and singing ‘My Heart Tonight’s in Ireland’ and the ‘Black Velvet Band’ with people I had only met a few hours before hand. My employer here kept telling me that ‘the Irish don’t really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day’, which I found confusing, because every store I saw seemed to be decked out in shamrocks, leprechauns and flags with, ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day’ in huge letters. But, I bit my tongue and waited to see what ‘not really celebrated’ meant in Ireland.
Funny story about St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. Apparently, up until the 1970s, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin consisted mainly of tractors. Furthermore, the pubs were closed all day long, and the only place you were allowed to drink was the bar at the Dublin Dog Show (held on the same day), and it was just a really happy coincidence that the Irish are a people who truly love competitive dog shows, at least, they were, until the laws were changed and the pubs could open on St. Patrick’s Day.
Anyway, eventually, someone on the Irish Tourism Board turned on the TV one year and saw the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade and went, ‘Hang on, shouldn’t we be getting a piece of that action?’ They subsequently launched the ‘new and improved (now with less tractors)’ Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which, even though it had very few tractors and more people dressed up like shamrocks, was a big disappointment to all the American tourists who flew over from Chicago and New York to see it in the following years (them being used to rivers being dyed green and balloons the size of skyscrapers and that sort of carry-on), so, not feeling able to compete with the Americans for size, they outdid them in length and launched the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which lasts 4 – 5 days and has music, theatre, dance, art and general revelry.
But, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Bandon was a much more traditional affair. The main street was closed, and people lined the footpath waving Irish flags, shamrocks in their breast pockets, ridiculous leprechaun hats on their heads, and bushy red beards attached to their ears etc. Its strange, this sort of display of national pride in Australia makes me feel somewhere in the range of uncomfortable to disgusted, whereas over here, it made me happy. I don’t know if its because of the undertones of Australia Day (or Invasion Day, depending on what cultural group you belong to) or the Cronulla riots and seeing the Australian flag used as a cape, or if I just hate Australia (jokes, guys, jokes!) but I would recoil slightly from seeing the Australian flag plastered all over the place like I saw the Irish flag in Bandon.
The parade was headed by an old dude in a kilt and hat playing the uilleann pipes, which are a traditional type of Irish bagpipes. In fact, when I saw them, I yelled out, ‘Oh, wow, awesome, its bagpipes!’ and was delighted for about 30 seconds, which was as long as it took me to realise how silly a comment that was, and that I had, in the absence of any other contenders, turned into the annoying American tourist that all Irish people loathe meeting (you know the one, they keep calling things ‘quaint’ and they want to talk about which county their family came from, and to hear stories of the ‘old’ country and get directions to the most traditional pub around that is currently showing a trad. session and an Irish dancing show, hopefully at the same time and, oh, while we’re at it, do you have any of those great, ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ T-Shirts, for sale?). No-one else around me said anything, and I want to hope its because they didn’t hear me and not because they were so embarrassed for my sake that they were just trying to pretend it didn’t happen.
Following the man on the bagpipes, we had 4 or 5 middle-aged women holding baskets filled with flowers, dressed in full-length velvet cloaks and holding a handwritten sign stating, ‘Bandon Traditional Hooded Cloaks’. This completely intrigued me, but no further explanation was forthcoming. Were the cloaks historical artefacts? Or was this a business? Could I, in fact, purchase my very own Bandon traditional hooded cloak to wear to the movies, for dress-ups or to do the vacuuming in? My employers had no answers for me, and the hooded ladies disappeared into the crowd. Perhaps they were invisibility cloaks? In which case I really missed an opportunity.
There followed a myriad of tractors of all different colours, driven by a myriad of farmers of all different ages and nose shapes. There is something very awesome about 15 or 20 tractors driving down the main street of the town. Something that made me want to yell out, ‘Ooh! Tractors! How quaint!’ But I bit my tongue. They were followed by a parade of beautiful old-fashioned cars. The cars truly were fantastic – many of the owners had packed their whole families into the cars, including pets and snacks for all, so it kind of looked like they had gone out on a 1950’s family holiday in their brand new car, taken a wrong turn somewhere, and finally found themselves in a 2011 St. Patrick’s Day Parade with no clue of how it happened.
After the cars, there were people parading from most of them groups and activities that one could participate in whilst living in Bandon – girl guides, scouts, the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association – a very important and influential group in Ireland), the Rowing Club, the Dance Schools (my eldest charge was dancing with her school), the Capoiera school etc.
I had a great day, although it was ridiculously wholesome. I heard a lot of people talking about how it was the biggest parade they had seen in a while, and there were muttered comments about the recession. The mayor was a bit less subtle, and stood up and made sweeping statements about the difficult times ahead and how important it was for the community to come together, like they had done today and how inspiring and uplifting it was to see so many people out and about and yada yada yada. I don’t remember much of the speech because we were desperately trying to get away at that point, away from the wonderful community that had come together, so we could rush off to our very secluded, private holiday home. Not sure if the mayor would have approved of that.
However, it was interesting how much of the parade centred around the children of the town – they were mainly the ones marching in the parade, and so it was their parents and siblings who were standing around watching the whole thing. In some ways it was a nice metaphor, or symbol or something. That the community had come together for the sake of the children, which is certainly what will need to happen over the next few years – after all, none of those kids contributed to the economic crisis that Ireland is currently in, but they’re going to feel it just as much as everyone else.
And on that hugely sentimental, overly-sugary note, I will say that next year, I hope to attend the St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin and spend the night with a group of American tourists, drinking Bailey’s, being obnoxious, asking locals where the leprechauns are and singing, ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling,’ just to see what the other extreme would be like.
Image: St. Patrick’s Day card from the eldest girl, now my most treasured possession.
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