March 2004 Newsletter

March 2004 Newsletter


On March 17th 2004, the Saint Patrick's Day Festival is scheduled to attract the green-eyed attention of some two hundred and seventy six million people worldwide. From Atlantic City to Zanzibar and Shilelagh to Ballydehob every grizzle-backed wolfhound, whiskey-swiller and shamrock-bellied tap dancer on the globe is going to be drafted in to celebrate a week of increasingly outlandish behaviour in honour of Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland. This is a curious phenomenon indeed. A supreme pancake as the great Flann O'Brien might have said.

Now, there was a time when I'd have to go into a lengthy explanation about St. Pat and how he started out as a Welshman in Roman Britain, was captured by rogue Irish pirates at the age of 16 and put to work as a shepherd boy in Ulster, chanced upon a copy of the Holy Bible, escaped from his captors and spent the remainder of his life gallivanting around the countryside shouting at snakes, picking shamrocks, knocking pagan kings about with his crozier and generally convincing an island of druid-worshipping heathens to tune into the words of a carpenter's son from the Sea of Galilee.

These days I'm not so sure. Mention Saint Patrick and most people think not of Galilee but of Guinness, great big black and green pints of stout pouring from taps in 125,000 pubs across the planet. I'm inclined to think this is an American legacy more than anything else. After all, it was the 19th century New Yorkers who (establishing a trend that still flows in Hollywood) turned Saint Nicholas from a scary old man who rode around on a white horse kidnapping naughty children into the jovial old cove with a twinkle in his eye and a penchant for reindeers and chimneys. So too, Saint Patrick - or at least, Saint Patrick's Day - has been stripped of all his austere Christian virtues and converted into a two-foot dwarf with a taste for green beer.

It's difficult to know but, aside from the sometimes overwhelming vulgarity of the occasion, I don't think many in Ireland are complaining. We'd been quietly celebrating the day for donkey's years, fitting in as many pints as we could either side of Holy Hour and watching in awe as our Brethren across the Ocean took our Patron Saint as their own. The New York Parade, which began in 1762, was the oldest and best of them all. It's bewildering and impressive to watch the floats and marching bands glide through crowds of black and white kids, their faces painted green, white and orange, the rat-a-tat-tat of drums, the tootling of pipes, a chorus of beautiful young lasses kicking their heels into the sky and an elderly Irish screen goddesses waving Queen-like from the main float.

To my mind, the great thing about Saint Paddy's Day is it gives each and every one of us an excuse to go out and act like a complete wally for the day. And I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity. Dye your armpits green, march like a giraffe, throw a spud at the deputy mayor, dance like you've a dozen hornet's stinging your kneecaps, sing like you're winning and don't think about tomorrow because tomorrow never comes.

The world could do with more days like this. It's essential that we the people are allowed to sometimes forget about the complexities and ironies of life. Moreover, it's my absolute belief that we the people deserve to party. I know the world is by no means the happy globe it should be. Indeed, for most of the people who live on this planet, it's still a hideously unfair place with no end of hard luck going around.

But look at it this way. Ireland was once a pretty awful place to live. Back in Saint Paddy's day, for instance, a man or woman would be doing extremely well to blow out 33 candles on a birthday cake what with so many axe-wielding psychopaths, snarly-toothed wolves, pestilential diseases and one thing and another. Fast forward to just two hundred years ago and we had a civil war that left 30,000 people dead in three months. One hundred and fifty years ago, our population was halved from eight million to four million when a catastrophic shortage of potatoes sent every second citizen packing either to the distant shores of America and Australia, or away on to the Great Big Free Bar in the Sky. Last century, we endured two world wars, a third for independence, another civil war for good measure and God knows how many other skirmishes and outrages that prompted our economy to keep nose-diving and our citizens to keep fleeing. It was, I repeat, a pretty awful place to live.

And now? In 2004 anno domini? Well, begob and begorragh but ain't we a sight for sore eyes?! We've a booming economy, our towns and cities have gone all cosmopolitan, there's a merry band fiddling away in every third pub, a cash machine in every village and I could go on ad infinitum but, all up, we have never ever had it so good.

There are some who, perhaps justifiably, mourn this new affluence because it inevitably breeds a busier, vainer, less accommodating society. But that is always the price of prosperity. But isn't it a fine thing that a small island, one of the most impoverished in Europe until three decades ago, has so abruptly managed to conquer the ancient and eternal gloom that hitherto drowned all our optimism in sooty black, rain-filled clouds. We had a little help from our friends, of course, and there's still a certain amount of mopping up to do between the jigs and the reels, but for now things are looking good. Indeed, when I drive across this country looking left and right and blanking out the bungalows and what not, I sometimes find myself thinking: "Well, what do you know?! It sure looks like we've cracked it". And so maybe, just maybe, the point of Saint Paddy's Day should be that when the future looks utterly dire and the past seems as black as your cat, you have to remember that you never know what's around the corner and maybe, just maybe, it might be, just might be, what we the people refer to as the Good Times.

until this time next month...

Best Wishes,

Conor B & Turtle.

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