‘Stand where St. Patrick did, as you take a spiritual journey like no other…’ a bold declaration that appears on a website about climbing of the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick in Mayo.
Today is our National Holiday and there is unlikely to be one like it ever again. No Mass to go to, no football, no hurling, too wet to go for a walk. Most of all though there is no Parade, either in town or on the telly. The vintage car and tractor brigade must keep their pride and joys locked up safely in their sheds for now.
A few years ago I overheard an elderly man in our local telling his neighbor how taken aback he was by all the groups there was in the local parade –
‘Sure we had nothing growing up’ he exclaimed, ‘Now there’s boy scouts, girl guides and there’s even ould bucks hanging out a couple of nights a week in a bloody shed’. ‘What do they be at?’ asked the neighbor. ‘I don’t know in the hell, breaking things and fixing them again, mostly breaking’. After a pause he takes up again ‘There a new group the young crowd are going to in the Hall called ‘Thigh Can do’. The neighbor looks puzzled ‘and what do they do?’. The neighbor doesn’t blink ‘They kick lumps out of each other’.
One thing I remember as a kid was the arrival of the American marching bands. I don’t know when they started coming over. They added a bit of exotic flair to the day with their tans, clear sun-kissed skin, beautiful big white teeth and even bigger smiles. They all looked like mini Kennedys. How could anyone be so happy walking around in the wet cold, Irish spring weather. They came from Savannah, Georgia and High Schools from places like Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. Either they were great actors, smiling so much or they genuinely enjoyed being here, the truth is likely somewhere in between. Later bands were better prepared coming with rainwear, ponchos and customized covers to keep instruments and music sheets dry.
A relation, who spent many years toiling in the US, gave me this advice when I was going to work in New York – ‘You can fool a yank once, possibly twice but he’ll come back at you strong’. I found it to be sound advice. They are a very innovative race, sure they even invented the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the first been held in Boston in 1737 and later started in New York in 1775. We native Irish are real latecomers to the party yet feel incumbent to tell our yankee friends and relations that is a sacrilegious sin to ever call our national holiday St. Patty’s.
Now I’ve a sneaking suspicion the marching band tradition in the US may have evolved from the combined musical and walking habits of our Orange brethren from this island. But thankfully St. Pat, Patrick, Patty or Padraig is embraced by all groups of our complicated society. As Fr.Ted said “that would be an ecumenical matter”. So even Orange can be Green on the 17th of March (even though St. Patrick was traditionally associated with blue and his flag is red and white.
The circumstances surrounding St. Patrick’s Day 2020 provide a great a time to reflect. For me this reflection has been enlightening. I have been a vocal critic of the Irish Government but I have to say I think they have done a tremendous job thusfar. There was no panic in the decision making. There was a sense conveyed that decisions were made based on calm dialogue with experts and not knee-jerk reactions. Hindsight will no doubt show there are some things that could have been done differently but there has been firm leadership and this in turn has created an air of calm and encouraged compliance with the steps advised. This is responsible Leadership.
This is in contrast to Bumbling Boris in the UK and the irrational demagogue known as ‘God’s guy in the Oval Office’. Trump trying to buy the research and proto-vaccine from the German company CureVac, exclusively for the US, is disgusting yet so typical of the POTUS. The rebuff by Dietmar Hopp is reassuring and might come as a shock to Donald that not everything can be bought. “If we hope to soon be able to develop an effective vaccine against the coronavirus , this person should be able to reach, protect and help not only regionally but in solidarity around the world,” said Hopp.
Thankfully after initial dithering the US is now starting to take appropriate measures but those lost days cannot be got back. Meanwhile Mexico is left disappointed that Trump has not built the wall.
Social Media has assumed greater significance as people start to self-isolate and physical social interaction decreases. Sure there are plenty of loonies and ignoramuses who think this virus is from a lab in China, designed to overthrow the West etc. This crisis is grist to the mill of the flat earth conspiracy theorists. Me, I’ve gradually learned to ignore them and pity them without engaging. I’m sticking with the science.
This crisis has also once again proved that Charlie Darwin was on the money. If the young, fit people emptying every supermarket shelf last week doesn’t prove the theory of Survival of the Fittest I don’t know what will. But that’s for another day. Such acts are easily countered by all the random acts of kindness we’ve also seen where people care for each and reach out. Humour is in better supply than hand sanitizer – laughter is always a great coping mechanism at times of stress. Our inboxes are full of clever gifs and memes making us smile.
So, on this day dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland, we must, as the website proclaims ‘Stand where St. Patrick did, as you take a spiritual journey like no other…’. for if our favourite Welsh man, who was a Roman, and who preferred Blue over Green, could survive forty days and nights in isolation, alone on the side of a mountain, then why can’t we.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh