Over recent decades, St Patrick’s Day celebrations have become a kind of green mardi gras. Our celebrations expressed many things, many social changes and an increasingly diverse and affluent society.
The party had, like many festivals of culture and nationalism, become homogenised.
Today will be very, very different but the day can still be a celebration — an arm’s length restatement of community, of solidarity and the kind of determination any society facing a lethal, unprecedented challenge must find.
The day may, in an appropriate way, become a meithal mor — a powerful, community-wide commitment to an agreed common purpose.
The Macnas dragons will not leave their Galway warehouse; the American college bands will not strut their stuff in O’Connell St; the shamrock sellers’ opportunity has passed. The bars will stay closed. Irish holiday makers in Spain — an estimated 20,000 — can, as they queue for an evacuation flight, wonder why they went there in the first place.
Their devil-may-care attitude, like that of last week’s Cheltenham battalions, stands in contrast to the hundreds of small businesses that have taken the very difficult decision to close even if they have no idea when they might again generate an income.
Many have debts they cannot service until this crisis passes.
The least they can expect is a repayment moratorium. Government cannot be firm enough in delivering this pay-back-time message to rescued banks with other plans.
They are not the only businesses facing huge challenge. Ryanair — as good an example as any — has said it may have to cut jobs and pay. Italy, Malta, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Cyprus have, to varying degrees, imposed flight bans. Over the weekend, Poland and Norway banned international flights.
Ireland will, sooner or later, follow that example.
Retailer Penneys has closed stores delivering nearly a third of its sales. That warning, however, came with a ray of promise. Last month, owners Primark warned its factories in China were closing but most have re-opened.
It is possible to hope the worm, in China at least, has turned.
Spain, in a move that might be replicated here, has requisitioned its private healthcare sector.
In France, where all bars, restaurants, non-essential shops, and creches, schools and universities are also closed, cases double every three days. A curfew may be imposed.
There is no rational reason for us to imagine we will not have to make these decisions too.
It is easy, and frightening, to rattle off a list of how the virus is changing hundreds of millions of lives while reminding us that nature can only be bullied for so long but that would add to the dangers. It would encourage the kind of apathy that made the boy who cried wolf too often redundant. Then the wolf came.
We will see off this wolf by consciously reducing contact with others, by almost counter-cultural levels of self-discipline, personal responsibility and patience too.
If we do all that for the coming weeks, maybe months, then the Macnas dragons will parade, the marching bands will strut and we will, in 2021, have our green mardi gras once again.
In the meanwhile, enjoy a safe, but quiet, St Patrick’s Day.