I haven’t always. Back when I was a young lad growing up in Dublin, I loved it. You see, back then we were not encouraged to stand on street corners ogling the passing young girls. We even had a derogatory term for it; corner-boys, and no one from the respectable neighborhood I grew up in could openly aspire to becoming one of those. But it was allowed on St Patrick’s Day—in fact it was a mandatory cultural observation, of a sort.
You see, on Saint Patrick’s Day, Dublin was visited by marching bands from every corner of the United States of America—our undeclared colony—and I, along with all the other scuts, would go down to Grafton Street and watch all the beautiful young blonde majorettes showing off their long legs without a bit of shame.
Later, when I moved to Toronto, I threw myself into the celebrations that were more about declaring our presence in a city that had not welcomed us as it might. We drank our green beer and sang along with songs of sedition against old mother England who was still held dearly by most of Ontario.
In no time at all, I had joined a band and was up on stage inciting beery crowds to put aside all that winter had dumped on them and embrace a bit of craic. They were the best of times for folk musicians who, by the end of the night, could be rolling in the only green that matters, providing their bar tab didn’t devour it all.
For a number of years I even brought my kids to the parade, despite the cold and the lack of majorettes. But since then, I have grown very tired of it. It began when I still played with the band and got tired of drunken audiences who only wanted to hear; The Black Velvet Band, Whiskey In The Jar, and the worst of them all, The Unicorn. That and everyone who was not Irish getting drunk and talking like they do in Irish Spring commercials. How would you feel if, on your national day, the entire world dressed up and acted out every caricature of your lot—see what I mean?
Not that I am against people having a bit of fun. Nor do I resent bar owners having a good day though I am a little reticent about Diageo as cultural ambassadors. What bothers me is that being Irish is so much more.
I suppose that in these days of corporate intrusion into every corner of our lives it is too much to expect that the Irish would be celebrated for their real contributions to life. A millennium of resisting Imperialism made us keenly aware of social injustices—to ourselves and others. For centuries we exported revolutionaries to every corner of the world. We also sent out our compassionate to bring some solace to the downtrodden, and, our greatest exports; poets and dreamers but there is not much opportunity for profit in that.
It’s enough to drive ya to drink.
Peter Murphy is the author of Lagan Love and Born & Bred. You can learn more about him and his books at our website.