Today being St Patrick’s Day, we Irish milk it for what it’s worth, with parades in towns and villages as well as in big cities all over the world.
But as an Irish person what does it mean to me to be Irish?I can’t speak of the entire nation so I will just speak of myself.
Growing up our family would travel to Donegal in the north of Ireland regularly to visit our grandparents. In order to get there we had to pass through the border, as historically six other counties in the North had been signed over to England.
These borders were manned by the British Army, with soldiers emerging from outposts with slits for windows and barbed wire all around them. As a child I thought nothing of being stopped and at times our car searched, by these gun carrying soldiers with very strong British accents.
It was only as I got older I became more republican and was not greatly impressed with this foreign presence in ‘my’ country. However my parents never encouraged such feelings and frowned on any overly patriotic or republican views, although singing republican songs was not discouraged!
It was an awful time in our small country and many atrocities were committed on both sides. However in the past twenty years, due to the Good Friday agreement much has been done to maintain a peace, so much so that my own children have no idea of what went on in the North when I was a child.
I left for Australia for a time in my twenties and it was there I discovered I was Irish.
I listened as they spoke of a land I barely recognised, of thatched cottages and donkeys and drove me to distraction saying, ‘Top of the morning’ to me daily. It was there for the first time that I missed not just my family but my ‘home,’ the country of my birth.
So what exactly did I miss?
I missed the green of Ireland, it’s hills and valleys.
and ridiculous signage,
Roads that twisted and turned through beautiful scenery.
I missed asking for directions and being even more confused afterwards. I missed villages with a crazy number of pubs and listening to a good session of music and singing. I missed the easy way we speak to strangers and Irish humour.
It was only when I missed all of this that I understood what it was to be Irish.
Today is St Patricks Day, the day all over the world when those who have any small drop of Irish in their blood celebrate. For a country of just over four million people there seems to be a huge number around the world happy to call themselves Irish.
We may not be the most perfect as a people and currently have much in our country’s past and present to be ashamed of, but despite that I am still very proud to be Irish.
Happy St Patrick’s Day where ever you are.
photo credit: Chris Kealy via photopin cc