My first St Patrick’s Day in Ireland.
It has always been something I have avoided in Oz. An excuse for all and sundry to parade themselves as being Irish (whether they are or not) fuelled by green beer and endless renditions of Wild Rover and the Fields of Athenry. Not always a pretty sight. And sessions on St Pats Day are non existent as every person who can hold a fiddle or accordion is gigging somewhere that night. So I was keen to find out what it was like back here.
St Patrick’s Day honours the death of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, in 461 and it is celebrated as a national holiday in Ireland and Northern Ireland and around the world by the Irish diaspora. It has moved from being a religious holiday to a day of secular celebration much to the chagrin of the church. I like this quote from Father Vincent Twomey who wrote in 2007, “It is time to reclaim St Patrick’s Day as a church festival without mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry” and concluded that “it is time to bring the piety and the fun together.” This plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
March 17th was a glorious sunny day in Clare so I headed into Ennis. The place was decorated with bunting and flags in preparation for the Parade, which kicked off at 11.00. Parades are a big deal here and every town and village has one. Not as big as Dublin of course which is now supposedly beats that in New York but definitely not as small as the one in Dripsey in Co Cork (which celebrates the fact that it has the shortest parade in the world – 100 yards between the village’s two pubs).
They are often staggered so the limited number of brass bands and prime movers can rotate between the villages. Community groups and schools go to a lot of effort and there are prizes for the best float or display. And everyone dresses up, with green of course being the dominant colour. At least fifty shades of green. Somehow it’s not tacky as it tends to be in Australia. It is the Irish celebrating their Irishness. So I saw nothing incongruous in leprechaun beards and green wigs as I might have in Australia if worn by Australians.
The other thing that struck me as the Parade moved past me was that just as in Australia now, Ireland is a multi-layered society and a quick flick through the photos shows groups with a diversity of ethnic identities. There is a strong representation of support groups for people with special needs. It was quite a window into what is important to the people of Clare. The whole thing is very much a family day and this spilled over into the pubs and restaurants with family groups continuing the celebrations as others geared up for a big night.
I had heard there would be tunes all day at Cruises so at 1:00 I joined Eric and Hugh Healy with Brian O’Loughlin and Catherine for some great tunes. Energetic and fast – great fun. Accompanied as we were by a young lad who practiced his dance steps continuously for well over two hours! Gradually the families left the pub and by 4 pm there was a change in musicians to Eoin O’Neill and Quentin Cooper and friends. The pub was rapidly filling up but at 6:00 I decided to head back to Friels at Miltown Malbay where there was a session in full swing when I arrived with with Damien O’Reilly, Caoilfhionn Ni Fhrighil, Eamonn O’Riordan, Brian Mooney and Thiery Masur . The pub was packed like I haven’t seen it since Willie Week and there was plently to like about the music. At 8.30 it wound up and my next stop was Liscannor where Ennis band Los Paddys de las Pampas were playing at Egans. I have to say I had never heard them before and wasn’t sure what to expect – Ireland meets South America? But with talent like Adam Shapiro and Kirsten Allstaff involved it had to be good. And what a great night. The music was surprisingly infectious and even a boring old fart like me was up on the dance floor bopping along. There were some great cameos from Clara Buettler and two flamenco dancing sisters (can’t remember their names) and then Lenka Hoffmanova took to the floor looking resplendent in her dress of orange white and green. Flamenco meets sean nos! Great stuff!
Now that was how St Patricks Day should be celebrated.