First published in the Inishowen Independent Thursday 15th March 2012.
Sydney Australia. Darling Harbour. St. Patrick’s Day Parade.1989. Everyone green including me and my protestant friend from Kilrea. We met one night in a bar. It was our Irish accents that drew us together. Over the marching bands she yelled at me, “If the ones at home could see me now, they’d shoot me.” “That would be a pity, you suit green.” I roared back. There has been many a celebration since but I don’t think either of us have dressed up in as much green since our Australian St. Patrick’s days.
My father, who will be ninety this year, would be ashamed of me if he saw the way I scrum for something green on St Patrick’s morning. He always has something green, a bunch of shamrocks from the fields. I have fond memories of Mum lining us up with her mouth full of pins to attach the three-leaf clover to our clothing—a symbol of Irish pride.
Word on the street has it that the wearing of the shamrock is a dying tradition on home ground while it’s promoted and exported to other parts of the world where new traditions are taking shape due to the efforts of Tourism Ireland. The London Eye, Table Mountain, the Empire State Building, the fountains at the White House and the TV Tower in Berlin, places I have had the pleasure to travel too, are all turning green. As, of course, is Buncrana. I haven’t been to Burj Al Arab in Dubai or the Niagara Falls yet but they too are “turning green” in honour of St Patrick’s this year—a salute to our country. Perhaps we could respond by wearing a bushy sprig on March 17th and remember those who will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in faraway places, not out of pleasure but out of necessity, whose hearts are here but whose jobs are not. They may or may not have the shamrock attached to their lapel but I do know they will wear their Irishness with pride. The banksters may have left us broke but we are not broken. We are hard working. We are liked and respected. The lovers of the green beyond our soil only have to get a waft of the accent before there is instant recognition comparable to meeting a long lost friend. “You’re Irish aren’t you?” Anyone who has ever been anywhere outside of the island of Ireland will know this is how the story goes. Our roots are everywhere and no matter where we go our roots are supported.
We also have the ability to look on the bright side and make the most of a bad situation. For those in Perth and other warm climates the sunshine seems to be ‘the bright side.’ They know it’s as scarce as the jobs here and sure if it wasn’t for the banksters and the blessed weather no one would ever leave the place we call home. So if you’re missing family and friends it might be a small consolation to know that the sun is shining on them this St. Patrick’s Day and I hope they spare a thought for us too—while the rest of the world is turning green we will probably be turning blue watching the creative and artistic talents of our community parade up and down our streets. It’s a pity Tourism Ireland can’t turn our grey sky yellow.
Anyway, I’m a little more prepared this year. I have planted a little pride and I’m going to find some pins and line my we’ens up and we’ll stand together as I carry out the little ritual that taught me to be proud of my Irishness. This St. Patrick’s Day my Dad will be proud of me and all. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone wherever you are!