Smile, we can all be Irish, wonderful and strange
If you’re Irish, God love ya, because you will likely have to tolerate a lot of clichés and perhaps some loud and boisterous behaviour this weekend. Sure, don’t you know that everyone has some sort of real or imagined connection to Eire on March 17?
And it seems that many hold to the common, time-honoured belief that one must wear funny hats, be very vocal and inebriated in order to correctly commemorate the saint who drove snakes out of the Emerald Isle.
Since St. Patrick’s Day falls on Sunday, expect celebrations to be even more protracted than ever.
It’s grand if so many make-believe Irish people get caught up in the spirit and spirits of the occasion. As long as partying remains safe and legal, this is all iontach, which, evidently, in Gaelic means both “wonderful” and “strange,” adjectives that will no doubt aptly describe some of the March 17 celebrants.
Anyway, we must temper our festive mood with the knowledge that before we toast St. Patrick, we must first survive the Ides of March.
March 15 has historically been a day associated with bad news. For example, that was the day in 44 B. C., Julius Caesar was assassinated, and, in 1971, the Ed Sullivan Show got the axe.
However, if we can get past any March 15 calamities, we ought to be able to put on the green, dance a jig and count our lucky charms.
Whether it enters like a lamb or leaves like a lion, March can also be a tough month.
Interesting statistic: Of all the deaths that will occur this year in Canada, 9.3 per cent will take place in January and 8.9 per cent in March. The percentage of deaths drops to 7.8 during the warmer months.
The possibility of a St. Patrick’s Day blizzard can never be discounted, however, by this time of year, there is more snow behind us than ahead of us. We could all benefit from a March break, if we could afford one. Those snowbirds can indeed be annoying, with their tans and their stories of sweating it out on white beaches, sipping fancy drinks and scuba diving in crystal clear lagoons while coconuts fell from the trees, offering the vacationers free sustenance.
For the many who must try to get by without a trip to warmer climes, solace can be found in the gradual retreating of the snow banks, and the gradual shedding of layers of clothing.
Wind chill appears to be less biting; the car is happier in the morning; pets spend more time outdoors; the furnace no longer runs non-stop.
Some perspective is required. Our troubles are minuscule when compared with the trials and tribulations faced by those who came before us.
There are all sorts of sad stories from the past, and Lord knows the Irish have their share of misery.
The most infamous bout of misfortune, of course, came between 1845 and 1852 when the Great Irish Potato Famine devastated the country, claiming the lives of about a million people and prompting about two million to leave.
The blight would have a huge impact on Canada, obviously. During 1847, “Black 47,” the worst year of the starvation, the wave of immigrants peaked, with about 110,000 migrants coming to Canada. The tragic irony was that after escaping the blight in their homeland, thousands would succumb to disease in their new home. About 5,000 Irishmen were buried in Grosse-Île, making the island the largest Irish Potato Famine burial ground outside Ireland.
Closer to home, you can zip down to Cornwall and take a look at a monument commemorating the Irish immigrants who died of typhoid in the Seaway City in the summer of 1847.
Located in Lamoureux Park, near the Cornwall Community Museum, the Celtic cross memorial remembers the 52 Irish immigrants who perished in the Cornwall quarantine hospital on Pointe Maligne, near the present site of the Cornwall Civic Complex, between June 14 and Oct. 18, 1847 and to doctors Darby Bergin and Roderick McDonald.
The physicians are credited with saving 182 typhoid victims and preventing the spread of the killer to the rest of the town.
Little was known about the Pointe Maligne typhoid hospital until 2011, when a patients list was discovered in a vault in the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry building on Pitt Street. Alas, the bad helps us appreciate the good. And the Irish are reknowned for their ability to roll with the punches. Sadly, until recently, the Irish were best known for throwing punches, and Molotov cocktails and all sorts of weaponry, at each other during their decades of sectarian violence in the North.
On the positive side, we have had Riverdance and movies such as “The Commitments” to remind us that the Irish are not all a bunch of British-loathing, heavy-drinking brawlers.
Irish also means shamrocks, The Dubliners, lucky charms, green beer, ballads, bad jokes, poetry, books, a tear in the eye, jigs, mashed potatoes, a Tommy Makem LP on the turntable. And, of course, there is a litany of Irish wishes and slogans. One of the better ones goes: “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and may you be half an hour in heaven before the Devil knows you’re dead.”
So, happy St. Patrick’s Day. May it be both wonderful and strange.