Despite a backdrop of protest, many people believe Paris is actually the place for the wearing of the green!
In a recent article, six best Paddy’s Day destinations were cited. For many, Dublin was top of the list and then there's the fabulous New York parade, with its 150,000 marchers and two million spectators! Chicago with its river dyed green and of course Boston and London are also favorites. Other people maintain that Buenos Aires is now the place to party Saint Patrick’s like it’s never been partied before.
I was lucky to have been born in Dublin and remember as a youngster, picking out my best green clothes, getting my shamrock pinned on and at the parade being hoisted on shoulders to see floats, bands and dancers and subsequently spying through people’s legs when older siblings’ backs just couldn’t take anymore.
I also had the chance to see the New York and Chicago parades and all of those occasions are in a folder in my mind labeled fantastic Irish memories.
However, as an immigrant, other Paddy’s Days have sometimes left me a bit maudlin. But to go back to the original question, if I could choose where to be next year for Paddy’s Day, although I’d be happy to be in any of the above-mentioned cities, I’d have to answer, that my very first choice would be where I spent it this year; on the left bank of Paris, in this wonderful city where, for better or worse, I’ve hung my hat.
Now dear readers I can hear you asking me, "are ye pulling our legs? We saw those images of the state of Paris after the Saturday, March 16, eighteenth ‘Yellow Vest’ protest. Apart from that, although Paris is top in so many things but Paddy’s Day? Might you be going soft in the head, like floppy camembert?"
The ‘Yellow Vest’ protest of Saturday, March 16, was contained to the Champs Elysées, in the eighth district. Other areas, like the Latin Quarter, where the parade originated at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, were completely unaffected by the damages wrought by the protest.
This second Saint Patrick’s Parade in Paris, (in a new wave of parades, there previously were small parades back in the 1980s) was a pleasure from beginning to end.
We were invited by ‘Irish in France’ to congregate from 12 pm at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, 5 rue des Irlandais. (Yes, there is a street called the street of the Irish in Paris!)
The building (erected in 1775) is in itself an architectural delight and well worth a visit. It hosts Irish historical archives and a dream multi-media library for anyone contemplating Irish studies or interested in Ireland, Irish history or culture, along with a rare old library with about 8,000 volumes written or published between the 15th and 19th centuries.
It also houses Irish students and Irish artists in residence and has various conference halls for its numerous cultural events. The spacious courtyard has been the scene for many of those events, along with the more personal.
Many of the Irish present were married in the center’s atmospheric Chapel Saint-Patrick, or had their children baptized there, and enjoyed a cocktail in that very courtyard after their big days. Like at any event at the Center, you can see people wistfully reflecting on past history, along with personal past events, as they throw themselves into the party at hand.
☘️ HAPPY ST PATRICK'S DAY ☘️ pic.twitter.com/fWIV0Bp3C5— Karlos (@Karlosparis) March 17, 2019
The outfits were amazing, the usual hats, leprechaun and St. Patrick’s ensembles, blended with green Parisian chic, were well worth seeing. It seemed the majority of people were Irish. I picked out the faces of the stalwart backbone of the Irish community in Paris, some of whose names I don't know, but comfortingly they're always there, at every event. I saw good friends, acquaintances and new Irish faces from the ‘Irish in France’ rapidly growing community.
There were also many French, some Irish culture aficionados, others members of extended Irish/French families, and some, like the sprinkling of other nationalities, were just there for the pure fun, and the promise of great entertainment.
We popped into the chapel to bless ourselves before the festivities, but instead, we were blessed by the sight of the full ‘Paris and District Pipe Band’ tuning up! By 12:30 the party was already in full swing. In the courtyard, music was playing and two food trucks were doing a rare old trade. The ‘Green Goose Restaurant’, who had also set up in the center were spooning out delicious bowls of stews that could rival an Irish mammy’s.
All of a sudden, the ‘Paris and District Pipe Band’ were heading towards the side door, banners were being raised and myself and my husband took the cue and joined the moving crowd.
Yes, we were all to be part of the parade! Spectating is a pleasure, but participation is better and we walked in the wake of the pipe band, a respectable distance behind Paris Irish Royalty, H.E. Patricia O'Brien, Ambassador of Ireland to France; the highly popular Paul Lynch, founder of the dynamic ‘Irish in France’ association; Nora Hickey M'Sichili, director of the Centre Culturel Irlandais; and visiting Irish minister John Halligan, Minister of State for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development.
Le soleil est au rendez-vous au @cc_irlandais pour fêter la #StPatrickEnVert avec le défilé qui partira à 13h et du divertissement tout au long de l’après-midi! Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh! ☘️ pic.twitter.com/W4Os4dijQl— Irish Embassy Paris (@IrlEmbParis) March 17, 2019
Madame Florence Berthout, Lord Mayor of Paris’s fifth district, marched alongside the Irish guests of honor.
Alumni of many Irish universities now settled and working in France proudly carried their university banners and ‘NetworkIrlande’, the Paris Gaels GAA, An Ghaeltacht-sur-Seine and Paris-based Irish priests (the parade’s Grand Marshall was Fr Aidan Troy) and Irish publicans all marched in step with pride.
The ‘Poil O'Brass Band’ were out in force to the delight of all.
Organizers said that over 2,000 people turned out to parade on the cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter, from the rue des Irlandais, around the neo-classic Pantheon building, one of the most famous of Paris’s historic monuments. Many of Paris’s great, Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola and more recently the much respected Simone Veil (politician and Auschwitz camp survivor), are buried in its necropolis.
The parade continued by the prestigious Sorbonne University, took a right on la rue Descartes (named after René Descartes, of ‘I think, therefore I am’ fame. As he watched the parade meander down the street named after him from above, might he have contemplated adding ‘I march, therefore I am’ to his Father of Modern Philosophy illuminations?) The parade then courageously made its way up the narrow student’s rue Mouffetard street and back to the Center.
For ‘Irish in France’s’ second Parisian Saint Patrick’s day parade, the weather was appropriately Irish; sun and blue skies alternating with menacing clouds, fluctuating winds and those mandatory ‘scattered showers’.
However, everyone got back to the Centre Culturel with make-up shamrocks still intact and ready for the rest of the day's free festivities which included the Paris-based Sarah Clark Academy Irish Dancers, and ‘The Wandering Lads’ group along with entertainment for the many youngsters including a comic, acrobatic juggler.
What made this parade so special? Great organization and great spirit and the fact that many members of the ‘Irish in France’ association’ enthusiastically took on the role of stewarding the parade and other logistics themselves.
The Latin Quarter streets and the historic Centre Culturel Irlandais were magical locations. The Centre Culturel is paradoxically very much on the cutting edge pulse of contemporary Irish culture while respecting and celebrating Irish traditions. The scale of the event and size of the crowd were a great fit. Large enough to make a lengthy trail, but still permitting us, like performance artists, to be part of that proud green cavalcade. We stepped out on the historic streets, in the city where we have always been welcome and where many of us feel at home despite obvious language and cultural differences.
After the parade, I went to see Roddy Doyle’s wonderful, poignant film ‘Rosie Davis’ on the Champs Elysées. Post-film, as I walked along the Champs, I thought about inequality in Paris, in Dublin, and in general and I wondered why people felt that temporarily impacting Paris’s beauty would solve anything.
I passed a surprising amount of tourists and French people taking photos of the last of the graffiti, the burnt out newspaper kiosk and the normally red ‘Fouquets’ restaurant, now sadly shrouded in black plastic and wondered why bother documenting such damage if it wasn’t a journalistic duty? Would you treasure a photo of a magnificent woman who was temporarily afflicted with facial carbuncles?
I reflected on the unfairness the fictional character ‘Rosie Davis’, and many people experienced in a world where the gulf between the privileged and unprivileged seemed wider than ever. As I walked Paris was reclaiming her impeccable beauty as men diligently sandpapered graffiti off her walls and the last of the sun glistened on the reemerging granite. It seems ‘Paris will always be Paris’ and her resilience will hopefully always be unconquerable.
I noted I had a pep in my step, despite the anguish of the cliffhanger end to ‘Rosie Davis’. It was as if the pipe and brass bands and earlier festivities had ignited something in me. I wondered if I actually had the best of both worlds and was thankful that the day had left me with an upbeat rather than a ‘I should be back home in Ireland feeling.’
Post-parade I considered myself part of a bludgeoning Irish community in Paris, which my French husband and my two half-Irish daughters, were also warmly welcomed. I reflected that even if we hadn’t been able to spend enormous amounts of time in Ireland, it still seemed such an integral part of my daughters’ DNA.
The eldest is writing a memoir based on ‘The Commitments’ and the younger, who was briefly shown how to knit by her Irish aunty, can click those needles faster than Michael Flatley’s feet in his heyday. No matter how hard I tried, I could never knit like my mother and sister. Had it just skipped a generation?
A Saint Patrick’s Day for an Irish person living abroad, that’s great fun, well and safely organized, which makes you remember your origins, count your blessings and gives you that wonderful warm feeling of inclusion goes down as a great day.
So this is the parade I want to ‘be in’ next year, and every year until it becomes so big that parade goers are relegated to the sidelines like in most other cities. Then, and only then, will I consider giving a whirl to one of the other six, out of the now seven (in my opinion), Saint Patrick’s Day ‘wonder of the parade’ type destinations!
Where did you spend St Patrick's Day? Let us know in the comments section.
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