WORLD – IRELAND [Irish American News March 2011]
By John P. Brady
Although our new leader, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and his entourage were promoting Ireland from the USA during the St Patrick’s Day festival week, they are sure to have missed the unique atmosphere that is only present in the homeland. A careful walk down a crowded Dame Street reveals the true joy and extraordinary spirit of Ireland’s national holiday. The world’s fascination with the Irish compels many to enquire what indeed it is like to be here on St. Patrick’s Day. I spent the day watching events and soaking up the joy of the occasion. Would the economic downturn, which has left many penniless, affect the spirit of the day?
Saint Patrick’s Day began at 11:30am with a large televised parade through the city center taking in O’Connell Street, Dame Street and Christchurch Cathedral. The Garda (Police) close many areas to traffic as crowds of young families line the streets to get a view of the many colorful floats. Once the parade has finished, music fills the streets of the capital as buskers descend upon Temple Bar, Henry Street and Grafton Street to entertain the large crowds of Irish and tourists.
Everywhere is a sea of green. There are revelers with oversized green hats, tinsel, flags and painted faces. The sidewalk on Dame Street was quite congested as many people stopped to view four overdressed men from Denmark who stood showing off their impressive luminous green suits. Among the crowds were Italians and Spanish who could be heard shouting excitedly at the madness of the occasion.
It is a particularly profitable day for the bars of the city as they enjoy a roaring trade with most of the better-known full from 2pm onwards. The busy period lasts until around 10pm by which time it has peaked and begins to quiet down. As many people have been on their feet since early to get a good view of the parade, they bid a tired retreat to the suburbs to prepare for work the next morning.
Temple Bar, of course, is a magnet for tourists and due to the large crowds and inflated prices many locals stay well away. At the crossroads of Essex Street and Eustace Street in Temple Bar, a steady stream of people passed. They were all dressed in green, in the great spirit of the day where normal close attention to fashion goes out the window. One onlooker likened the atmosphere to the party island of Ibiza, a surprising comparison. Moving down to the busy crossroads of Fleet Street and Anglesea Street, by the overcrowded Oliver St. John Gogarty bar, more crowds flow past a tired horse and cart which stood waiting to provide some curious tourist with a view of the city.
A hundred meters away from the noise and color of Temple Bar, and not a single tourist can be found, as a huge crowd of young Irish music-lovers pile into The Work Man’s Club to watch a series of local bands. The live music scene has always been exceptionable in Dublin, but as a positive effect of the recession, it is currently experiencing a purple patch.
It seems that all political and economic worries are firmly buried for the day; the Irish have an enviable ability to live firmly in the moment and thus enjoy themselves. St Patrick’s Day is hectic though, and a long day in the city can be a challenge for some. It is regarded as a messy day by many locals who try to avoid the city center at all costs, leaving it to the young and the tourists to take over.
American accents were to be heard everywhere; many were true to their image of being more Irish than the Irish who live here. Each one held a shopping bag bearing the words “Carrolls of Dublin” –a shop which sells Irish gifts. Many tried their first pint of Guinness in Ireland and took pictures. As Americans are very friendly by nature, they succeed in gaining maximum enjoyment from the festival.
The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) also enjoys a good day as the All-Ireland Club Finals take place in Croke Park, the historical sporting venue. [It was here that the British Army invaded the field in November 21st, 1920 during a match, killing 14 people including Tipperary player, Michael Hogan, after whom one of the grandstands is named]. This year’s football contest was won by Crossmaglen Rangers of Armagh, while Clarinbridge of Galway took the hurling title. Both clubs are formed from a tiny population of approx. 2,000 inhabitants, which shows the greatness of their achievements.
It is important to mention the man after whom the festival is celebrated, Saint Patrick. The patron saint of Ireland was Welsh, not Irish. In the fourth century AD, he spent 6 years in Ireland as a slave before returning to Wales where he became a bishop. He heard the voices of the Irish in a dream, calling him to return and convert them to Christianity. Saint Patrick’s legacy was great. In the centuries after his conversion of Ireland, the country became hugely important as a home of learning and piety being dubbed “The Land of Saints and Scholars”.
It is hard to gauge the mood of one St. Patrick’s Day from another, but with the backdrop of economic gloom which has rested its heavy weight on our shoulders; this year’s festivities had a particularity pleasant feel. As I mentioned above, the Irish are long known for their ability to enjoy themselves and let go of their worries. This year the increased number of worries seemed to lead to an exaggerated letting off of steam. Certainly a palpable joyous mood hung in the air proving that the festival retains its reputation as a true celebration of Ireland and Irish identity.
John P. Brady is a freelance writer and journalist based in Dublin. His interests include feature writing, short stories and political satire. He welcomes comments on his work – please leave comment or go to the contact page
[First published by Irish American News March 2011]
Back to the Gaff
Scandalous Narratives of Contemporary Ireland
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