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Until about three decades ago the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was not just another tackily “festive” occasion marked by shamrock face paintings and Guinness-soaked pub crawls. It had the markings of a Christian feast and it reflected a sense of collective awareness among the Irish that they had a lot to be proud of. Nowadays whatever happens on March 17 celebrates neither St. Patrick nor the culture and identity of Ireland and her people.
The official website of St. Patrick’s Festival (March 17-20)–a joint project of the Government of Ireland (specifically its “Department of Arts and Heritage”) and Dublin City Council–says that its objective is “to provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations.” In this age of diversity and inclusiveness it is unsurprising that “the opportunity and motivation” is now practically open to everyone.
Let me confess that I strongly wished I was Irish on at least one occasion. On a miserably drizzly morning in November 2006 I arrived at Dublin airport after an unpleasant overnight flight from Chicago. Irish passport holders and their EU fellow-hypercitizens went through fast-track immigration processing, while we Americans (many of unmistakably Irish origin) had to inch our way forward in the “Other Passports” lane. Does that particular moment qualify me for joining “in the imaginative and expressive celebrations”? Are there, by implication, unimaginative and less-than-expressive celebrations which are not open to all?
If there are I’d be interested in the conditions for joining them, since I find the imagination and expressiveness of Ireland’s civil servants and their marketing consultants less than motivating. They cite among the goals of the Festival’s program of events “to create energy and excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity [and] to project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country.” [emphasis added] As for the “marketing activity,” energy and excitement creators are presumably the Festival’s sponsors which include Science Foundation Ireland (another taxpayer-funded body), Irish National Lottery, Volkswagen, and–somewhat eccentrically–the Embassy of France in Ireland and Ethiopian Airlines.
On second thought I can understand the Machiavellian logic of some die hard Anglophobes in the French Foreign Ministry: let us help the Irish celebrate their . . . whatever, and they’ll be grateful and therefore more likely to join us in voting against that horrid Monsieur Cameron when la perfide Albion makes another attempt to get budgetary exemptions from Brussels. Or perhaps the policy planners at Quai d’Orsay simply needed to blow their soft-power-projection budget somewhere before the fiscal year is over.
As for the Ethiopian Airlines, I don’t know . . . It does fly from Addis to LA with a stopover in Dublin, but over a dozen bigger and richer airlines (BA, KLM, Lufthansa . . . ) fly to Dublin directly from their hubs several times a day, yet chose not to participate in the celebration of innovation, creativity etc. Ireland’s own Aer Lingus was awol. Could it possibly be that Ethiopia’s grand strategists are hoping that their 100% state-owned airline’s largesse to St. Patrick’s Festival will be more than compensated by Ireland’s next drought or famine relief grant to the starving Ethiopians, one-third of whom subsist on less than $1 a day? (I feel ashamed already for thinking such an unkind thought.)
But back to St. Patrick’s Day. The melancholy fact is that the political and commercial elite class of Ireland is happily reducing their country’s spiritual and cultural legacy to a postnational variety of “heritage,” the tepid green-dyed pap which can be enjoyed by all (and marketed to all) celebrants in the posthuman experiment. In America it is only a matter of time before March 17 becomes “a genuine multicultural holiday”: it is not too hard to imagine a St. Patrick’s Day parade that will include “Chinese dragons, Mexican mariachi bands, Caribbean steel drummers and Korean acrobats, all marching alongside green-clad Irish pipers and step dancers.” After all, as far back as 2007, “Lithuanian musicians, drum-beating Punjabis and West African dancers used Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade . . . to celebrate their place in a booming Ireland that has become a land of immigrants. One man dressed as St. Patrick in papal hat and sunglasses did the samba, while another float nearby featured ‘Miss Panty,’ Dublin’s premier drag queen.”
Last Thursday’s 255th parade in New York was another step in the right direction: it “proved to be a historic one, as openly gay and lesbian groups were allowed to march in the parade, ending a quarter-century long ban”:
“I never thought I’d see the day when I could march up Fifth Avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with my husband,” said Brendan Fay, chairman of the Lavender and Green Alliance, as the parade began. “When we started in 1991, after getting arrested so many times for protesting the parade, wow, what a moment this is.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio marched with the Lavender and Green Alliance, having boycotted the parade in his first two years in office because the march had not welcomed overtly homosexual agitprop activists. “Today everyone is celebrating together,” de Blasio said. “The city is at peace and unified.”
A wow moment indeed. The Irish and their diaspora have been finally redeemed, freed once and for all from the ghosts of their superstitious, ignorant, priest-ridden and credulous forefathers. Swift, O’Connell and de Valera may frown, but Wilde, Beckett, and perhaps even Joyce will rejoice.
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