Remembering St Patrick's Day in the 1980s

You cannot call yourself a child of the ’80s, if you did not at one stage wear a cardboard sign pinned to your back courtesy of a Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes box, writes Lindsay Woods

Remembering St Patrick's Day in the 1980s

You cannot call yourself a child of the ’80s, if you did not at one stage wear a cardboard sign pinned to your back courtesy of a Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes box, writes Lindsay Woods

ST PATRICK’S DAY, 1989. A village in east Cork where, unbeknownst to me at the time, I would secure the sweetest victory of my life. First place winner of the fancy dress competition. The stakes were high after tasting the bitterness of last year’s loss. There were whispers that some entrants had obtained costumes from relatives in America, which did nothing to quell the rising panic that the gold medal position would once again slip through my fingers. Or worse, that I wouldn’t even place in the top three.

I took to The Oracle in the hope that it would yield sufficient inspiration. But alas, Bunty was more concerned with showcasing ‘Pet of the Week’ in the current issue than offering any sartorial advice. Weighed down by the magnitude of a possible second defeat, I turned to, The Mother.

“Why don’t you go as something together?” said she, as she jerked her head in the direction of next door. “Shur, the two of you are fierce similar.”

She was referring to our neighbour. Just over a year between us in age yet, apparently, ‘fierce similar’. We both had brown hair and eyes and were exactly the same build and height. Attributes which apparently were enough to deem us, ‘fierce similar’. So, I hopped the low wall to pitch an idea. With two heads undoubtedly being better than one and therefore surely guaranteeing a placement in the top three, it of course made utter sense that we enter the competition as… twins! But to bring that international flair to the village… Asian twins!

Our costumes were heavily thought out. Two flamboyantly printed shirts courtesy of my neighbour’s dad as ‘kimonos’. Our winter scarves used as ‘obi belts’ tied around our waists. School tights, gymnastic shoes, hair pulled into buns on the tops of our heads, heavy on the rouge and eyeliner and the piece de résistance… a cardboard sign, safety pinned to our backs explaining the obvious. You cannot call yourself a child of the ’80s, if you did not at one stage wear a cardboard sign pinned to your back courtesy of a Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes box.

We shook that competition for all its worth and brought home the gold. Tanora was my tipple of the day and I downed it with the same enthusiasm as the Formula One champion who downs that celebratory jeroboam of champagne.

To this day, the lure of those local parades on March 17 draw me to them like a moth to a flame. Not for me, the showiness of elaborate fireworks displays, visiting marching bands from o’er the transatlantic or King Kong proportioned helium confections lumbering down a cordoned off street while Bono serenades them. No, thank you. I like mine retro. With a modest- to no-budget and floats held together by Sellotape, a disgruntled committee and a splash of whiskey.

These types of parades are not without their need for some crucial details in their own right. Scene setting is crucial. There needs to be at least one, if not two, chip vans in attendance. Preferably, the ones that look like they had a starring role in The Snapper and who moonlight as ice-cream vans in the summer season.

The crowd will consist entirely of the same people you see on a daily basis. With the addition of the tricolour painted across their cheeks or a lump of shamrock with sod still attached pinned to a jacket.

A smattering of local dignitaries is mandatory, of which one will be charged with the responsibility of delivering the few words as Gaelige before the off. Said ‘off’ will be delayed, due to the temporary disappearance of St Patrick. On location of the man of the hour, he will be duly shoved into a vintage car (read: Ford Escort) and the horn will be sounded.

He will be trailed by a group of young girls, shivering in their Irish dancing costumes and struggling to hear the music to perform their jig over the noise of the flat-bed truck carrying the lawnmower display directly behind them.

Various hi-ace vans advertising businesses, sports clubs, historical societies, dog shelters all whizz by waving flags and coloured wigs. It will inevitably rain at some stage in the proceedings but the local priest has said a decade of the rosary in the hope that the rains will abate for the duration of the parade: all seven and a half minutes of it.

The culmination of all of the above results in all attendees piling into the local watering holes to ‘wet the shamrock’ before departing. The only sound more clearer than the clinking of glasses is the hissed, overly pronounced words coming from each parent’s mouth,

“For the last time, I told you… you’re only getting a cordial because you’ll just spill it.”

This is Ireland! Happy St Patrick’s Day.

More in this section

Click and connect: 100 places in Munster to shop locally this Christmas