Smile, we can all be Ir­ish, won­der­ful and strange

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

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.

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