Friday 15 December 2017

Terry Prone: Celebrate joy of being Irish, today more than ever

Spectators watch the St. Patrick's Day Parade move down Broadway in South Boston, Massachusetts
Spectators watch the St. Patrick's Day Parade move down Broadway in South Boston, Massachusetts

Because we’re Irish, we are reluctant to become completely positive about our national holiday.

We prefer self-deprecation. So we give out about politicians going off on trips to foreign parts, even though it’s been proven that those trips net millions more than they cost.

We are bothered by the level of drunkenness in our cities on St Patrick’s Day and the gruesome reminders that drunkenness leaves on our

streets and in our hospitals the next day.

Christ Church cathedral in Dublin is illuminated in green ahead of the St Patrick's Day festival

But the fact is that St Patrick’s Day is a uniquely wonderful opportunity to celebrate all that is best about the country.

No other nation in the world gets to attract so much good global attention to itself on its national holiday, whereas we get handed an opportunity to reflect on, and publicise, what Oscar Wilde might have called “The Importance of Being Irish”.

Whether it’s called St Patrick’s Day, Paddy’s Day or – weirdly in the United States – Patty’s Day, this particular occasion turns the face of the world toward us and that face is filled with positivity and good humour.

Ireland has never invaded any other country or enslaved its citizens, so, as far as most overseas nations

are concerned, we’re on the good

side of OK and on the best side of likeable.

Not only that, but the situation has improved with passing time.

Forty years ago, when ministers and other VIPs went overseas to publicise Ireland, they ended up warbling about an island of saints and scholars on the one hand and of ‘advance factories’ on the other.

In America, particularly, neither claim made much sense. Not that many potential tourists wanted to visit a place made famous by a saint or a scholar.

Advance factories were a strange Irish concept of the time, where the IDA would build a big framework for an eventual building and explain to everybody that it could be fitted out in no time, so it could, if an industrialist fancied setting up in that part of the country.

Back then, every interviewer on every TV and radio programme had to ask about the Troubles in the North, and, too often, the news from Northern Ireland might include a bombing or other atrocity.

Today, when ministers go overseas to publicise Ireland on St Patrick’s Day, it’s a much more productive chance to market the real Ireland.

They can talk of an Ireland of peace and prosperity – and really mean it.

They can talk of an Ireland of plurality and liberalism, where

the Government is now asking our citizens to look at the possibility of inviting gay people to share in marriage – a groundbreaking move it is approved.

They can talk with confidence of scholars, but of scholars with degrees in electronic engineering and chemical engineering, which are hugely relevant to any potential investors in this country.

In the past, Ireland could be marketed in the old John Hinde postcard fashion: beautiful scenery and fetching, with ragged, little peasant children dotted around it.

That postcard version appealed to the nostalgia of older tourists, many of them from the diaspora.

Now, what we have to offer are highly-developed vacation resorts which appeal to potential visitors of all ages.

But the essential importance of St Patrick’s Day does not lie in its international impact.

The essential function of our national day is to remind us of the heartbeat of history, allow us to register how far we have come, and enable us to experience the pride – not just of our long history – but of what this generation of resilient, energetic, driven Irish people have achieved.

That we can dress up, enjoy music, dance, greatly-improved food and

the odd parade is something of a bonus.

Because, ultimately, St Patrick’s Day allows us to prove to ourselves that we’re not a bad lot – and nobody

beats us when it comes to having the craic.

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