St Patrick’s Day - A day to celebrate and question

This is the day we, or at least the great majority of us, declare and celebrate our pride in being Irish even if that happy possibility is occasioned more by an accident of birth rather than any particular achievements.

We will mark the national day at home, and at many, many points around the globe, by cheering marching bands, by participating in cultural events — some of which may involve a little cross dressing though certainly not in the New York parade. Irish tenors, or at least tenors asserting Irish descent, will sing maudlin songs of loss and separation at lunches in the great halls of America’s cities. The descendants of West Cork’s copper miners, who moved to Butte Montana generations ago, will celebrate with an abandon hardly equalled anywhere.

At home we will celebrate enthusiastically — as we always do. Some of us will drown the shamrock, many others will drown their sorrows. Others, the alone-at-home and aging parents of young emigrant families will use the day as an excuse to stay a little longer on Skype and catch up with almost virtual grandchildren living thousands of miles away in societies where the date is of little or no significance. But it was ever thus and it will, it seems, always be the reality for a diaspora nation like ours.

Just as the children of emigrants, will be shaped by Edmonton or Canberra, Leeds or maybe Munich, we all seem to be re-imagining what it is to be Irish. Just as a generation or two ago many of us became à la carte Catholics many of us are becoming à la carte Irish citizens. It may just be that broader European horizons have supplanted our traditional, national ambitions.

Though we may, this weekend, give some stumbling lip service to what we pretend is our first language the reality of that bizarre claim was more accurately reflected, albeit shamefully, in the Dáil just some days ago when those present were unable to conduct their business through Irish on the one day a year set aside for linguistic solidarity with the minority who speak Irish.

This is just another interface between one Ireland and an Ireland leaving behind disciplines that were once, in a social sense at least, almost mandatory. The ambition once described as the National Question — a 32-county Ireland — was once so entrenched in our consciousness that it filtered every thought, every relationship and nearly every policy. Now that ambition is alive in ever fewer hearts. The idea, once so very acceptable, that this ambition might be achieved through force is now — thankfully — anathema to all but the deranged.

Another interface of then and now is access to education. It is hard to believe that access to State-funded schools can be decided on a religious basis, even à la carte, pretend, religion, for very long more.

Today is a day for celebration but some reflection is appropriate too. There are many problems in the country, many areas where we fail and are neglectful and hypocritical. Like nearly every society material ambitions seem overly dominant and our inability to better manage capitalism is causing terrible division and inequity. Despite all of these challenges, relatively moderate compared to those faced by some societies, this country remains a very good place to live — especially as we still have the power denied to millions around the world — we can, despite everything, still shape our own destiny. We could though make a better job of using that great privilege and challenge.

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