To be Irish is to be seen as royalty when abroad
IT TOOK two women from Savannah in Georgia to get me to fully grasp the whole St Patrick’s Day thing. I met them in Atlanta Airport about three years ago, and up until then, Paddy’s Day meant no more to me than another excuse for a drinking session.
I had missed a connecting flight to Jacksonville in Florida, and with three hours to kill, I sat on a high stool in an airport bar. Within minutes, having heard my Irish accent, the two women approached me and asked what my plans were for St Patrick’s Day.
At first, I was a bit suspicious. Atlanta Airport is a pretty busy spot and white people are hugely in the minority. Having two Americans from the Deep South ask about St Patrick’s Day is not what you expect to find. It turned out to be a highly embarrassing encounter – not because of who they were or what we spoke about - it was more to do with how little I knew about St Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world.
The women simply loved Ireland and everything Irish. They had visited here on several occasions and revered everything the Paddies do and say. Had they a choice, they would gladly take Irish citizenship and move from Georgia to Donegal. It was hours later when I reflected on my encounter with the two women from Georgia and how much they knew and loved about Ireland.
To be fair to both of them, they weren’t into the whole leprechaun and top-of-the-mornin’ thing
As a nation we command extraordinary respect all around the world...Time and time again our people and hospitality prove to be the winning formula
adopted by so many Americans. They just had a genuine appreciation of Ireland, its people, its history and its culture. Looking back, I could have asked those two women for anything and more than likely would have got it. They would have gladly taken me home with them to Savannah and treated me royally for a week – simply because I was Irish.
It was then I realised that being Irish is one of the greatest strengths we have. It’s like having the ultimate plastic card that is recognised and can be used in any country, anywhere in the world. Funny, isn’t it, how other nationalities in countries thousands of miles away appear to make a bigger deal of St Patrick’s Day than we do ourselves? In fact, our own parades here at home are just a shade of some of the celebrations in the United States.
Savannah, for example – where my two lady friends hailed from – hosts the second biggest St Patrick’s Day Parade in the world. It first held a St Patrick’s Day Parade in 1813, 80 years after the city was founded. It all started out when a small group of Hibernians marched on the streets of Savannah to commemorate the life of St Patrick. Ever since then, it just got bigger and bigger ever year.
This week, the fountains in Savannah’s oak-shaded squares gushed green water. In fact, the Savannah River itself runs green in celebration of St Patrick. Over 300 groups, over 50 bands and several US military divisions will take to the streets as part of the annual event.
For as long as I can remember, the media in this country have made a feast out of how many government ministers are travelling abroad on St Patrick’s Day, where they are going and how much it is costing the taxpayer. Up until my encounter at Atlanta Airport, I was one of the cynics who accused politicians of doing nothing more on Paddy’s Day than squandering taxpayers’ hard-earned cash on junkets around the world.
Now my view has changed. The entire government should be abroad, using that Irish card whenever and wherever they can. As a nation, we command extraordinary respect all around the world. It’s true that in recent times, many parts of the world must have looked in on us and wondered what the hell we were doing with our economy. They might have been curious and even amused, but they never laughed at us. Very few laugh at the Irish. Every year, thousands of visitors arrive on the shores of this great little nation. Research has found that our scenery and bars and restaurants are not the only factors that bring them. Time and time again, our people and our hospitality prove to be the winning formula. They simply love us for who we are.
The IMF won’t get out of this hole we’re in. Neither will Enda Kenny and his government. Ultimately, the Irish people will be the ones to get us back on track. From Savannah to Soho, there is immeasurable good will towards and respect for the Irish.
We have a distinct advantage over so many others. If any nation can recover, it’s us. The world is rooting for us – simply because we’re Irish.
Isn’t it funny how other nationalities in countries thousands of miles away appear to make a bigger deal of St Patrick’s Day than we do ourselves?