by Frank Schnittger
Fri Mar 17th, 2017 at 12:34:48 PM EST
St. Patrick's day has never been a particularly big deal for me: more an excuse for a lie-in or a long week-end away after a long winter. Although almost every Irish town or city has a St. Patrick's day parade which attracts almost every group you can throw a uniform or costume at as well as large crowds of onlookers, it has never seemed to me to be much more than an excuse for a monumental piss-up afterwards. Shure it's no harm to have a bit of craic, might be a typical response. We seem to be in the process of patenting craic as a uniquely Irish contribution to world civilisation.
In more recent times, however, St. Patrick's day parades have become a serious artistic endeavour and economic and political business. Costumes and floats have become ever more inventive and outrageous, the participants engaging in a mass performance artistic event worthy of celebration in its own right. Cities around the world mark the day with their own parades or the green-lighting of landmark buildings. As a promotion of a national identity and tourism, it has few, if any, equals. Friends of friends organised a very successful alternative St. Patrick's day parade in New York when the very conservative Ancient order of Hibernians refused to allow LGTB groups to openly participate in their parade, and were recently honoured by the Irish President for doing so.
At a political level the celebrations include the presentation of a symbolic bowl of shamrock to the US President by the Taoiseach in the oval office: an unequalled level of access to the American President for a small nation. Usually it is an opportunity to lobby the President and key figures on Capital Hill on the current areas of Irish concern, be it "undocumented" immigrants to the US, the future of FDI in Ireland, peace and stability in Northern Ireland, or the current concerns over Brexit and US EU relations. Little matter that it generally involves cringe-inducing platitudes and leprechaun jokes. Some serious business is often done.
This year outgoing Taoiseach Enda Kenny had to negotiate the minefield of widespread Irish disapproval of the Trump presidency, as expressed in Kenny's own remarks that that Trump's campaign rhetoric was racist and dangerous, and suggestion that voters had an alternative to vote for. It is also an uncomfortable fact that many of Trump's more extreme supporters and appointees are of Irish extraction. The gulf between Irish politics and many Irish-Americans in the USA has never been wider.
But St. Patrick's day is a day to celebrate "Irishness", whatever that may mean, and not a day to litigate differences. Many have pointed to the hypocrisy of advocating for undocumented (= illegal) Irish emigrants abroad whilst maintaining a strict political asylum process at home which can leave refugees in limbo for many years. But keeping Irish American relationships in a positive space is not necessarily a bad thing at a time of increasing US EU tensions. I wonder if today's meeting between Trump and Merkel will generate similarly warm feelings.
War-mongers the world over depend on generating fear of the "other" to make their misadventures politically viable. Displays of public conviviality, however forced, can sometimes reduce tensions and create opportunities for better relations. Anything which helps to undermine the Trump/Bannon project of destroying the cohesion of the EU has to be a good thing. So the begrudgers can mock and scoff at the fake bonhomie of the revellers all they want: it is a modern version of the hippy "make love, not war" sentiment of the 1960's all over again. At worst it is a harmless conceit that Ireland matters more than it really does in the real world. At best, it helps a lot of people have a good time, at least for a day. Happy St. Patrick's day!