St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. It ranks second only to the prized Fourth of July. For the last four years, I have taken the day off to attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City. It’s one of the country’s largest celebrations of Irish heritage and reflects the massive Diaspora–the population of which is larger than that of Ireland itself.
The parade highlights Ireland’s immense and ethereal contribution to folk music. The earnest and hopeful echo of the bag pipe will rattle your insides and can bring you to tears. But a smile will be right back on your face when you see those little dancing Irish girls with curls so tight and bouncy you think it could be their hair slinking them along rather than their whirring and tapping feet.
The audience and parade goers are wrapped in countless yards of plaid and thick, cream colored wool sweaters. And there are people like myself–as green as can be. When the parade is over; Midtown East, the West Village and other popular drinking spots become streaked with the drunken green mess that is 20 something revelers reliving their Frat house days.
I like St. Patrick’s Day so much because its not only an excuse to wear a blinking shamrock necklace and to cash in a ticket to dissociate from responsibility, but it is also a powerful and moving day to honor a country that has given much to world and suffered greatly by way of poverty, conflict and intolerance.
Ireland has contributed remarkably to world literature, dance and music. I’ve not yet had the privilege to visit Ireland, so I can only imagine the many towering literary figures (Joyce, Wilde, Swift,Yeats…) that have strung words together in a pattern as unspeakably beautiful as the fervent and aerial Irish landscape.
In juxtaposition to the exquisite art of Irish history, is the history of war, division and violence. Ireland, an ancient island nation with indigenous Gaelic roots, has been invaded since the Middle Ages by the Normans, the Protestants, the Brits and other groups attempting to pull the country under its sovereignty. Ireland became part of the British Union (or the United Kingdom) in the early 19th century. Over the course of a century,the British colonization or partnership; depending on your perspective, divided the nation into enemies and spurred violent conflict. Over three decades, from the 1960s to the 1990s, the country was embroiled in a destructive civil war. Northern Ireland was strongly opposed to British rule and employed violent resistance as a means to an end. Thousands of lives were lost. A peace accord, The Good Friday Agreement, was signed in 1998 in an effort to institute broad policies to end the conflict and foster positive social development and infrastructure. Today, the country remains divided politically and bouts of violence still bubble up, but Northern Ireland is recovering and Ireland as a whole ranks high on development indices.
Colonization and conflict invariably leads to widespread poverty and lack of access to basic human rights. This hardship, coupled with the climate of a Northern hemisphere island nation, is reflected in the national cuisine. The core of traditional Irish cuisine consists of hearty kale, cabbage, potatoes and peas. Cows provided milk and cheese and occasionally beef if the owner could afford the slaughter. Pigs provided sausage and bacon.
Perhaps most famously, Ireland gave the world whiskey. Say what you will about its deleterious effects on those that turn from laid back buddy to belligerent brawler when they ingest it; but it will warm you up and pulsate heat from the heart straight through the veins. Ireland also gave Americans Guinness, which from what I understand is considered weak as piss in Ireland. Regardless, beer lovers around the world have Ireland to thank for developing the Irish stout, a strong derivative of Porter. Irish breads are basic using grains and raisins. These include soda bread, potato bread and others.
Erin go Braugh!