St Patrick’s Day can help bring out our local identity

I was in the attic, looking for something else, which is the best way to find anything, says Colm O’Regan.

(If you are looking for something, announce loudly that you’re not bothered if you ever see it again. This will coax it out of its hiding place.)

There it was: a video cassette. For younger readers, a video cassette is ... well, imagine if a Youtube video was banished from the internet by an evil wizard and condemned to spend eternity locked in a plastic prison. And, once it was played, forced to relive its life in reverse, at high speed, and constantly live in fear of having its contents accidentally wiped by the Sunday Game highlights of the 1994 Munster football semi-final.

And the yoke for playing a video cassette had to stay in the house. So, in order to relive the contents of the video, you’d have to remember it in your head.

This particular video was of the Dripsey 1999 St Patrick’s Day parade — the one that got into the Guinness Book of records — travelling from one pub to the other, across Dripsey Cross.

Apart from the machinery, every human and animal went in the back of one pub, out the front and in the other door. Ponies included. Scientific studies have shown that there is nothing funnier than a pony going into a pub. Try it.

The following year, the parade went in the opposite direction, because variety is the spice of life. Eventually, one of the pubs closed, so the parade had to be changed. Otherwise, without an end point, it could have gone on for infinity.

Now, it has been replaced by a vintage rally.

In that 1999 parade, in keeping with the legend, St Patrick came from Coachford.

It is said that he heard the people of Dripsey calling to him in a dream, asking him to save them — or maybe they just got a hold of him on the phone.

I don’t have a means of playing the video, but I can still play the memories. There were no less than 25 organisations represented in the parade. Dripsey is a small place, but not lacking in ingenuity, so everything the area had to offer was given a place in the pantheon. Float No. 25 was someone from a local sludge disposal company, driving a septic-tank cleaner.

The most abiding memory was local pride. A community saying: ‘look at us: pure cracked, but alive and kicking’. I think this is what St Patrick’s Day is mostly about. Yes, there will be news footage tomorrow night, from the bigger urban areas, of majorettes and Macnas doing some sort of pageant, where a giant fights a sea-devil.

St Patrick’s Day is about national identity, but it’s also about local identity.

Locals in hi-vis. A child getting hyper on club orange, while her older sister dances a reel in the middle of the street and her father puts on a wig and plays Michael Noonan in a short play about trolleys in emergency departments. In a trailer pulled by a Massey Ferguson.

It’s about the volunteers. The same people who train teams, do Tidy Towns, stand around in a hi-vis one day, when no-one else has turned up, and wonder if they’re “a pure mug for doing this”, but they still keep turning up.

Village and small-town Ireland is sometimes like the speech from Braveheart — “You may take our post offices and our bus services and our bank ... But you’ll never take away our capacity for organising divilment”.

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