To be Ir­ish is to be seen as roy­alty when abroad

Bray People - - OPINION - AI­DAN O’CON­NOR

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?

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