MLA John Dallat
A member of the Northern Ireland Assembly has called for August 15 to be made a national holiday, north and south. SDLP member John Dallat feels that making August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, a national holiday would be an "opportunity for everyone to become involved in a celebration of the special relationship the Mother of God holds in the lives of Irish people."

By no means would I ridicule Dallat for his devotion or question his religious views. I went to Mass on the 15th myself.

It's just, well, I don't know, but when I read his comments this morning I was taken aback. I felt like I'd been transported back in time.

Only yesterday we had the news that the diocese of Dublin may be on the brink of a complete financial collapse thanks to the fact that attendance at Mass and the collections have declined significantly. The seemingly endless reports into the Church scandals haven't helped, but I'm not so sure the Irish people have much of a "special relationship" with Jesus' mother these days.

That such a special relationship did exist seems pretty obvious to me. All over the country, in urban and rural areas, you can see Marian shrines. These shrines were erected during the Marian Year of 1954 (I believe). Many are in the middle of public housing estates, presumably built on government owned land. There's no way that would happen today.

"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there," according to L.P. Barthartley. That certainly seems true in Ireland where the obvious signs of an extremely devout people stand in stark contrast to the agnosticism, cynicism even, of so many Irish people, particularly those under 50.

This is why I was startled by Dallat's proposal. It's as if he was talking about a "foreign country" where "they do things differently" because there's simply no chance that Ireland is going to adopt August 15 as a national holiday.

I expect Dallat will get virtually no support, other than from a few Catholic die-hards and those cynical enough to exploit the beliefs of the faithful in order to get themselves another day off in the summer. I do, however, admire his courage because he is bound to attract a lot of personal and very negative attention, almost all of it from people who were baptized Catholic.

I'm not inclined to support Dallat myself. I can't help wondering why we should make August 15 a holiday now, when it wasn't a holiday in the 30s, 40s and 50s when it would have been more appropriate. If it was good enough then for people to have to work on the feast day, it's good enough today.