Wearing o’ the green - Yes, we have great events to celebrate

IT’S been many, many years since we had to celebrate our national day in the face of such daunting economic and social challenges.

Nevertheless, we will celebrate with enthusiasm and, even if government backbenchers are keeping their heads down because they would prefer to avoid angry constituents, the parades will go on and the old songs will be sung with recession-defying gusto.

Some of us will gladly wear silly hats and pull sillier faces to amuse ourselves and our children, all in the name of remembering an enslaved Welsh swineherd who lived more than 1,500 years ago and had the good fortune to become our national saint.

Many will phone family and friends living far away because, despite all of the great novels of angst and despairing, dysfunctional relationships, family and friendship are two of the things we still do best. They remain the traits that shape our lives in a way that seems to be deeper and more resilient than is seen in many other societies. Today it will be phone calls and chats, not press-and-send emails, because it is the warmth of interaction with loved ones we crave rather than the detail of a life lived elsewhere.

It is an indication too of another way our country is changing that many of those who have come to build new lives here — the New Irish in shorthand — may use the occasion to phone family in their country of origin.

They will mark their new National Day by looking over their shoulders to remember those in their lives who celebrate their nationality on another date.

The national holiday is a reminder too that though we face huge challenges life is not all pessimism and worry. There are wonderful things happening around us that in another time would have been seen as being hugely significant.

Last week this island realised an ambition that generations of Irish people dreamt of for centuries but never saw. It was a milestone at least as significant as any passed since the Good Friday Agreement almost 11 years ago, maybe even more significant as the event was that peace deal made real.

When two British soldiers and a policeman were murdered by terrorists the two traditions on this island stood as one in the face of the atrocities. Such was the outrage expressed that we can finally believe that there is a future without the hatred and division of the past.

This was a great event worthy of great celebration.

The innocuous photograph in yesterday’s newspapers of a smiling group in New York said more about how democracy has defeated terror on this island than more or less anything that has gone before it.

Photographed completely at ease with each other — pictured as a group of friends on holiday — the photograph of Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his wife Mary, the North’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the North’s First Minister Ian Paisley and his wife Eileen must warm the heart of anyone who cares for the future of this island.

Though the politicians are slick veterans of 10,000 photo opportunities even they could not feign the warmth and ease shown in the photograph.

Maybe we have taken the normalisation of society in the North far too much for granted — as last week’s murders sadly reminded us — but even a moment’s reflection on the journey travelled to reach that happy moment in Manhattan would be cause enough for great celebration for Ireland — even if this was not St Patrick’s Day.

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