CLOSE your eyes and think of St Patrick’s Day…what comes to mind?
Is it Ireland’s untouched natural beauty, our reputation as a nation of world-class writers, singers and poets, our embattled history, our heritage?
Nope, chances are you think of the same things that I do – radioactive shades of green, leprechaun outfits, silly shamrock hats, silly shamrock t-shirts, silly shamrock sunglasses and beer.
More St Patrick’s 2016:
Don’t get me wrong, I like silliness, and I really like beer, but should creepy gold-hoarding little green men really be the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of your country’s national holiday?
Actually, there is one other thing that comes to mind when you mention St Patrick’s Day and that my friends, is drinking.
Despite the fact that the Irish are nowhere near the heaviest drinkers in the world (according to a 2015 WHO report we don’t even make the top 10) and in Europe we come 4th (after Belarus, Andorra and Lithuania), you don’t tend to get T-shirts like this one (below) about the Belarusians doing yoga, do you?
I’m not saying for a second that St Patrick’s Day should be a solemn day devoted to practising the harp or mending thatch roofs, but when did it turn into an excuse for the whole world to get hammered using the Irish an excuse?
Back at home, people tend to feel conflicted about St Pat’s too.
First of all, no gives a toss about the snake-charming fella himself (we might have coloured a few pictures of him in at school but that’s it).
In fairness, the parades in Ireland have come on leaps and bounds since I was a kid on my dad’s shoulders. It’s not just a few crappy floats anymore, but while it’s a nice thing to take the kids to see if it’s not pouring rain, it’s not got much to do with our national identity does it?
There is one thing we all agree about though – we all like a day off on March 17 so cheers for that St Pat.
And yet, I know so many people in Ireland who avoid the pub like the plague on St Patrick’s Day, why?
Because they know it will be carnage by 8pm.
Outside of Ireland, St Patrick’s Day is a different ball game. New York goes all out for an epic parade, Chicago dies it’s flipping river green and the Sunday before the day itself, central London shuts down to celebrate all things Irish.
Except that’s the problem. St Patrick’s Day doesn’t celebrate all things Irish – it really only pays tribute to a simplistic, paddywhacked version of Ireland.
I don’t blame anyone from China to Chicago for buying into the St Pat’s ‘craic’, because really what could be easier than chucking something green on and having a few beers?
And there are positives of course – tourism; it brings millions to the economy in Ireland and I’m not just talking sales of ‘Kiss me I’m Irish T-shirts’ .
In 2013, Fáilte Ireland reckoned St Pat’s generated an estimated €121million for the economy with the average tourist forking €696 over their stay.
Aside the numbers, there is an undeniable feel good factor about St Pat’s – it’s pretty amazing, unbelievable even, that people the world over want to be Irish for a day, but do we want them to think of a caricatured version of Ireland, one of drunks and pots of gold that we’ve fought so hard against all these years?
I don’t know the answer. Maybe I need to lighten up, or maybe we all need to take ourselves more seriously.
What I do know is that I’m incredibly proud to be Irish born and bred, and living in London for the past six years has only made me love home even more.
Still, I won’t be singing The Wild Rover with a tricolour wrapped ’round my shoulders in the pub tonight, because it’s the one day of the year I feel like more like an outsider looking in.