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