Stories about the Irish and their unique approach to life are legendary. The Irish brogue, with its soft drawl, has seduced many a maiden where other men have failed and every good ethnic joke includes an Irishman in whichever trio is mentioned. Like this one: an Englishman, Irishman and an American walked into a bar. The Barman said “sorry, I don’t serve jokes, only drinks”. (ha ha).
When we were growing up, it was a foregone conclusion if a boy asked you if you had heard the joke about “Paddy and Mick”, it was not going to be a joke you could repeat to your mother.
The songs of the Irish are as sweet and soulful as you could ever imagine. While Danny boy is not truly Irish, it is generally considered to be so. Who cannot respond to these plaintive words?
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flowers are dying
’tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
Or not kissed a complete stranger at midnight, after a rousing rendition of
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
and Ned Kelly was as Irish as they came.
It seems that much Irish history is unhappy and there are many stories of the “troubles” between the Irish and English; Protestants and Catholics. The IRA bombings in London terrified me when my two boys were in the UK and I hated hearing that they had gone across to Ireland – although they assured me they were probably safer at that time in Ireland than they were in London.
Indeed, the current “troubles” go right back to the 17th century when, in July 1690, the armies of King William 111 (William of Orange) defeated James 11, a Catholic King who subsequently fled to France. On July 12 each year, Protestants still celebrate this victory – after more than 320 years – because at that time much of the Ireland was colonized by Scottish and English settlers, whereas today the North is predominately Protestant (represented by the color Orange) and the South is predominately Catholic (represented by the color green).
The current tri-colour flag of Ireland has a long history. Orange for Protestants, green for Catholics, and a white stripe for the hope of peace between the two. It was designed by a group of French women and presented as a gift to Thomas Meagher in 1848;, first raised above the Dublin GPO after the Easter Uprising of 1916 and officially given constitutional status in 1937.
St Patrick is a Catholic Saint credited with converting the island to Christianity and, by the way, also with driving all the snakes out of Ireland. St Patrick’s Day is March 17 (ribbon: Green) and on March 21, many around the world celebrate Harmony Day (ribbon: Orange) with a view to putting a wide range of prejudices aside.
A few years ago, an Irishman awoke in a park in Midland. It was part of the old Tuohy Gardens, where we girls would go, in my first year of High School, to do “phys ed” – handstands and other stuff, in the privacy of the park.
There were lots of trees and bushes around the grassed areas where you could actually be left to your own devices for quite a while; Midland had been rocking to the sound of the Irish Rovers for days The Orange and The Green – The Irish Rovers, and the Irishman had been left to ‘sleep it off’ off after a raucous and highly celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.
After he came (almost) to his senses, he started to stagger down Gt. Eastern Hwy towards the Greenmount end of the Highway. He chanced upon a well-dressed man in a suit, upon whose lapel was proudly worn the orange ribbon of Harmony Day. In the spirit of the day, the “suit” stopped, and asked the Irishman if he was all right and did he need any help?
The Irishman’s bleary eyes alighted upon the orange ribbon and began to attack his would be “good Samaritan”. When later hauled before the Magistrate, his defense was that the man was “wearing the Orange on St. Patrick’s Day”.
I truly cannot remember whether the Magistrate, in his wisdom, accepted it as a valid defense but I suspect he may well have done.
In the hope that we see an end to such foolish and long-lived sectarianism, I wish you a Happy St Patrick’s Day – Catholic and Protestant alike – and hope that it is not an idle thought that we live long enough to see you all live in peace.