I’ve never really been a St. Patrick’s Day person. Never being much into crowded pubs, parties or parades, the day has always passed me by. When I lived in Ireland, I often took advantage of the day to catch up on work. Paddy’s Day 1998 was spent not at Galway’s Macnus-led parade nor in any of her thousand or so pubs but giving my final-year project a push over the line before the end-of-term deadline. The following two years, I enjoyed peaceful days alone in the plant tissue culture lab I was doing my M.Sc. in, taking long, solitary cigarette breaks and savouring the unusual mid-week stillness of UCC’s spring campus. It was during my first stint in Spain that (like many Paddies that find themselves abroad) I thought of drowning the shamrock for my very first time. The day turned out to be a disaster; me, my girlfriend and some friends started drinking in one of Madrid‘s half dozen or so genuine Irish bars shortly after midday, with the expectation of a long, joyful session stretching out before us, only for revelries to be cut short an hour later when my girlfriend’s handbag was stolen. That was to be both my first and last attempt to have a text-book all-day-in-the-pub St. Patrick’s Day.
When I moved back to Ireland, Paddy’s Day again became an opportunity to get some tranquil bench work done. The 17th of March 2005 was dedicated to tending my bacterial cultures and fumigating a laminar flow hood — all in the midst of great peace and quiet. The following year, my father caught pneumonia watching the parade from Ennis’ wintery footpaths and entered a spiral of ill-health that eventually saw him off by October of that year. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear the words “St. Patrick’s Day parade” without thinking of him shivering and hopping from foot to foot as he watched pipe bands and boy scouts pass before him.
Now that I live abroad again and have kids there’s no chance of either going on an all-day pub crawl or bringing them to see the parades, hurling matches or dog shows that formed part of my boyhood St. Patrick’s Days. I don’t get a day off work and neither do the kids get a holiday from school. There’s no in-your-face St. Patrick’s Day celebrations here in Madrid. We’re not part of any expat Irish community (we’re not great joiner-inners!). It would be easy to let the whole shebang wash over us, just pretend today is like any normal Sunday. But no: there’s something about St. Patrick’s Day and wanting your kids, at least for one day, to celebrate their Irishness. We’ll do our best to mark the day in our own nuclear-Irish-family-living-abroad way. We’ll don the green, every man woman and child of us. The house will be decked out in shamrock and tricolours. Griddle bread will be made — and shaped with rainbow, shamrock and pot-of-gold cookie cutters. Irish stew will be consumed. Diddle-dee-eye music — and diddle-dee-eye music only — will be played. We’ll toast St. Patrick and Ireland and St. Brigid and Emma and Ogie and Ray D’Arcy and Jedward and our family and friends back home and have our own special Hispano-Hibernian Paddy’s Day. And some year the penny will drop with my little girls about why they speak funny, have strange skin and hair, no respect for authority, wicked senses of humour and a stone-mad streak running through them that those around them seem to lack; they’re Irish!
Beannacht Lá Fhéile Pádraig Libh!