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An immigrant's memories of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

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St. Patrick’s Day is synonymous with the wearing of the green and all things Irish. It’s a day of great pride for all the Irish living all over the world as well as those ‘holding down the fort’ back home.

As a child growing up in Athleague, a small village five miles from Roscommon town, St. Patrick’s Day was always a highlight of the year for us. We would look forward to the big parades and all the excitement that went along with them.

There were only ever two parades held when we were kids, St. Patrick’s Day and the Easter Parade. Some of the largest towns held both parades, the medium sized towns held one or the other and villages such as Athleague unfortunately held neither. We had the will, the pride and the crowds lined up but Main Street just wasn’t long enough!

Of course that meant a day-trip back then, a day when all the kids were loaded into the back seat of the Hillman Hunter (remember them?). After a year of relatively drab rural existence, the excitement we all felt sliding around on the rear seat of the family car on our way to the big parade was palpable. Of course it helped that we were all on a sugar high from a breakfast of cola bottles, Taytos and Fanta.

But the wonder of St. Patrick’s Day started weeks before parade day of course. We were all taught in National school of the life of St Patrick, his trips across the Irish Sea, his time spent in slavery, and the amazing story of his rise to becoming Ireland’s Apostle. How he used the shamrock plant to teach the story of the Holy Trinity and how he banished the snakes from Ireland were stories that captured our imaginations.

Of course we know now that there were never any snakes to begin with and a four leafed shamrock was a rare sight but back then we couldn’t resist searching for both of them. Whether we were out herding cattle, carrying the last spring lambs down off a hillside or trapping rabbits we always had our eyes peeled for that snake who didn’t hear St. Patrick’s warning or a clump of that elusive four leafed clover.

But back to the parade and where best to position ourselves. At the beginning of the parade route, towards the end or near the viewing platform? No matter where we ended up, there was always a lot of excitement. The colors, the floats, the clowns who handed out even more candy and the cheers of the crowds.

The front lines were populated with us kids, wearing our green ribbons with gold harps, followed by our mothers, whereas the older men preferred to stand outside the pub doors, dutifully doing their little part, drowning that shamrock.

Of course a lot has changed in Ireland since I was a young child. We’ve seen the Celtic tiger come and our towns and cities changed forever. We’d like to think that we, the people haven’t changed that much but we have. For the better too! The sense of pride I saw as a child is still present today.

That pride is as strong as ever, but it’s what we are proud of, that has grown.

When I was a kid growing up in the eighties, emigration was a scourge, our economy was struggling and times were tough for a lot of people. A lot of us emigrated to make a better life for ourselves abroad. The country, back then, simply couldn’t manage to support its own people. Our pride back then was a pride in our potential, in our language, in our past and in our ability to overcome our struggles over the years.

These days, we are still proud of all those things, but now we have a new sense of pride in how we have developed as a nation, how we have taken this prosperity in our stride. We have a quiet confidence about us now that is evident everywhere you talk to Irish people. It’s evident in our sporting achievements. It’s evident in our business achievements. There’s a new sense of ownership we have towards our nation, our economy and our social fabric.

Currently there is a petition to make St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday in the US. After experiencing many parades in New York as well as events in cities as far flung as Portland, Oregon, there is no doubt in my mind that St. Patrick’s Day should be a national holiday here. It’s said that there are over 40 million Americans of Irish descent living in the US today. Should they not have their day?

Events such as St. Patrick’s Day show us how proud the Irish both at home and abroad are of their country and all that it stands for. Even today as Ireland is coping with an unimaginable influx of immigrants, the Irish are showing the same welcome and inclusiveness that was shown to them for generations by the rest of the world.

So this St. Patrick’s Day, have a wonderful day. Enjoy the parade, wherever you are. Have pride in what being Irish means, and don’t forget to drown that shamrock!

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