Happy Strange St Patrick’s Day

Happy Strange St Patricks Day 2020
Today, March 17th, is St Patrick’s Day, strangest St Patrick’s Day anyone can remember.
Normally on this day everyone with a drop of Irish blood in their bodies stops for at least a moment or two and considers this island and identity and idea we call Ireland.
St Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s day, one day in the year when everyone celebrates the commonality of who we are and the common ground of this green isle we’ve come from, wherever we are in the world.
There are about 6.5 million people living on the island of Ireland, but that only tells a small part of our story.
We’ve been a dispersed bunch, forced to travel to all corners of the world, first by the Great Famine in the 1840s, and just about every generation since then by the potent mix of stony home ground and the promise of bright lights and opportunity beckoning us from abroad, so conservative estimates put the Irish diaspora—those folk all over the planet who consider “Irish” to be a part of their heritage—at somewhere around 50 million people.
And a great percentage of us traditionally put something green and go out to gather someplace.
The gatherings usually start at one of the parades that snake through the streets of everywhere from the world’s largest cities to our smallest Irish towns.
The gatherings typically move from the parade to the pub (on rare occasions, you might be lucky to get a combination of both—my dad has fondly told a story from the Foot and Mouth livestock epidemic of 2001, when parades were also cancelled or curtailed and he found himself unwittingly in attendance at perhaps the most unique and most memorable St Patrick’s Day parade ever held, several laps of a pool table in Gertie’s pub in Keshcarrigan in County Leitrim).
The pubs dispense with green beer and normal beer and Guinness, lots of creamy Guinness lined up beside the taps waiting for the second pull, and all sorts of whiskey with an e, because only whiskey with an e can be drank on this day, and gins and pink tonics in globular glasses for some of the girls, and they drink deep and are merry, and anyone with a nervous disposition gives all drinking establishments a wide berth as a small but noisy percentage of the revellers who started the day in such good spirits inevitably find themselves falling over or falling out, or bent double in a side-street willing the contents of their stomachs, placed there with great joy and at great expense, to make the return journey and splat on the pavement in the shape and colour of an almost perfect pizza.
At home, if we avoid the revelling, we might sit on the couch for The Quiet Man or Darby O’Gill and the Little People or Ryan’s Daughter, and marvel at all these Hollywood stars who took time out of their busy bright American lives to make a film—we always called it “a fillum”—about this little faraway place of ours.

And we might also look around us and listen, to the music that this little place has given to the world. From the masters of the past, like Luke Kelly and Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynnott, to those we grew up with and are still around and doing their thing, like Christy Moore and Clannad and Finbarr Furey, to everyone making now their time, like Glen Hansard and the Lost Brothers and Lankum, let us listen to the rhythms of these masterful performers and consider the gift all of them continue to give to the world.

St Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s Day, but it’s always been more than that too, more than just a chance to congregate and celebrate our Irish Ness.

St Patrick’s Day is also two things in the rhythm of the year.

Firstly, it is a break from the 40 days of Lenten sacrifice, which depending on how Easter falls would have started a week or two or three previously but which already would have built up a signfiicant hunger for the good things in life (sweets in wrappers, or chocolate bars, or creamy Guinness or whiskey with an e, depending on your current station in this slow-slow-but-all-too-rapid merry-go-round of life…)
And secondly, and perhaps most importantly, March 17th is a line in the sand that draws an end to the winter months and beckons us forward into the longer warmer brighter days of spring and summer.
In this way it works precisely the same and opposite as Halloween, October 31st, which calls us back to the homestead for the dark and slower days of winter.
As far as weather goes, St Patrick’s Day can bring it all. There have been parades in the blizzards of snow and there have been mass sun-burnings, So it’s usually best to be prepared for everything.
Today there will be no mass sun-burnings, and no collective toasting of whiskey or beer, green or otherwise.
Today, like the rest of the world, all of us are reflecting on the strangeness of the time, and thinking about how we might get through it, and how it might change us forever, and how possibly our most precious human trait—our very closeness, our togetherness—can be both threatened and strengthened by the collective experience all humanity is grappling with today.
By the very fact that you and I are here today, alive and breathing, we know that all the endless generations of our forefathers and foremothers survived and flourished at this thing called life for long enough to propel their offspring into the world. All those people went through moments in time like this, or much, much worse, and whether they got through it with the fullness of grace or with a residue of bitterness, they got through them all the same.
And we will get through them too.
We will rise to the challenge, and perhaps, if we do this right, we will shift our perspective on the world and everyone in it, and be mindful of the invisible but undeniable and absolute interconnectedness of every one of us to everyone else.
Happy Strange St Patrick’s Day to you, wherever you are in the world.
Allow me to finish with a traditional Irish blessing:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.