What expats are doing for St Pat’s
St Patrick’s Day means much more to emigrants than it does to people in Ireland. Several Irish people abroad tell Ciara Kenny what they’ll be doing on March 17th
LORNA O’GARA, mother of Hugh (6), Lily (12) and Grace (11), living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This will be our third St Patrick’s Day since our family moved from Mullingar to Rio, and for me it is about our three kids having pride in their home country. Very little is known about Ireland here in Brazil, so it is nice to be able to celebrate our roots when the day comes around.
We’ve been talking about St Patrick’s Day this year for weeks, because Rio’s most iconic feature, the Christ the Redeemer statue, is “going green” for the first time. We have been invited to a reception with the ambassador, co-hosted with the British Consul General, to mark a visit by Martin McGuinness. We’re going to host a gathering for our own friends too, with some traditional Irish food and drink.
Our Irishness is very important to us as a family. Our son Hugh has been living here for as long as he lived in Ireland, so it is especially important he learns about Irish culture. We do our best to listen to Irish music and watch Irish sports all year, but St Patrick’s Day is the one day when you can really celebrate where you come from.
CATHERINA CASEY, chairwoman of the St Patrick’s Day Parade Advisory Forum, London
St Patrick’s Day is a wonderful opportunity for Ireland to make a positive statement about itself in key locations around the world. There is a strong Irish presence in London, and we want to keep the festival evolving so it appeals to a broad range of people.
It had become a bit like a music festival with lots of drinking going on, which was ostracising families and older people. I have two girls aged 10 and 15, and they found it quite tedious. Representatives of community groups who sit on the St Patrick’s Day forum decided to restructure the festival this year to bring much more variety to the programme and make it more child-friendly.
We will have a comedy tent, a film bus, Irish food stalls and a music stage that will entertain the adults, and lots of new activities for children, with a section dedicated to storytelling and shadow animation, sports demonstrations, and a craft tent where kids can make their county flags.
If they are done well, St Patrick’s Day celebrations can be a great way to nurture a sense of pride in a young person about their heritage. The day will hopefully appeal to everyone – young emigrants who have recently moved over, those who have been here a long time, second-generation Irish, and those with no connection to Ireland at all, because a huge part of it is about promoting the country as a destination.
RORY O’BRIEN, research scientist, living in Dunedin, New Zealand
St Patrick’s Day brings back fond memories of parades, flags and badges (which mum still sends out) and hunting for shamrock in the back garden. There will be an uplifting email from President Michael D Higgins to the diaspora and a card from home with “Across the Miles” on the front. Altogether it is a nice reminder of our special place in the world.
I’m a Dub and my partner Clare is from Portlaoise, Co Laois. I’ll be sure to have some Guinness chilled to raise a glass to the aul’ sod, and I’ll probably have my tatty old rugby jersey on, too. We always mark the day in some manner but stop short of going out, because of what we would be confronted with.
The commentary over here tends to highlight the one all-pervading, onedimensional aspect of the day – the drinking, which leads to an uncomfortable mix of national pride and acute embarrassment. It is not only Irish people doing the over-indulging; Dunedin is a student town and the excuse for an all-day bender is embraced with great enthusiasm. There will be street parties and live music, and plenty of inflatable shamrocks and “Kiss Me I’m Irish” hats.
St Patrick’s Day used to be a celebration of Irishness, but not any more. The day has been hijacked and cheapened by the plastic paddywhackery aspect. It creates an international perception of what it means to be Irish that is far from the truth.
Drink yourself green if you will, but please, not in my honour; I’d like to think there is more to us than that.
VIVIENNE CAREY, acting manager of Durty Nelly ’s Bar, Sydney
It will be packed in here on Sunday, the busiest day of the year. Our main clientele will be the Irish tradesmen and backpackers who regularly drink here, and local Australia ns who come in to check out what St Patrick’s Day is all about.
We will open at 8am to serve a full Irish breakfast so people can get a good feed into them. The traditional music session will start at 11am and run until 2pm, where people can bring in their own instruments and join in. There will be Irish dancing, too.
It doesn’t matter where we go, the Irish always love a pint, especially on our national day. It won’t get messy though, because you are not allowed by law to be drunk in a pub in Australia. People will get merry, but they won’t be falling over like at home.
I’m originally from Finglas in Dublin, and 90 per cent of our staff are Irish. St Patrick’s Day is really important for Irish people here to get together, but we try to provide a taste of home for them all through the year. The sense of community among the Irish in Sydney is very strong; because we are so far away from home, we need to look after each other.
CIARAN QUINN, guitarist with Boxty, Dubai
Playing traditional Irish music was a huge part of my life growing up in Belfast. I have toured a bit around the US and Australia playing guitar – Irish music is popular everywhere you go, so playing it is a great way to travel and see the world.
I came to Dubai a few years ago for a gig and loved it. I lived in Qatar for a year but jazz music is much more popular there, so I moved back to Dubai last August and got in touch with the group through a friend of a friend from home.
St Patrick’s week is one of the busiest of the year – we will be playing gigs almost every night. On Sunday we’ll be performing at an event organised by Tourism Ireland at the Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel, for the Irish Ambassador and about 50 members of the Irish community, which is a great opportunity.
KAREN HENNESSY, co-founder of the Irish Families in Perth social network and mother of Laoise (2)
To provide an alternative for families who didn’t want to bring their kids to the pub on St Patrick’s Day, Irish Families in Perth organised a meet up in Whiteman Park last year, with a barbecue, Irish music and activities for the children. From there, the idea formed to restart the parade, which stopped four years ago.
The mayor of Vincent, Alannah McTiernan, who has Irish heritage, was really keen on hosting the parade in Leederville, about 3km from central Perth. We formed a committee and secured sponsorship from iiNet, a broadband company run by Irish businessman Michael Malone. The amount of work we have put in to arrange fundraising, traffic management, permits and insurance has been huge, so I’m really looking forward to the day now.
We have 30 groups set up to participate in the parade, including eight floats, three marching bands, local GAA clubs, local businesses with Irish connections, and the Claddagh Association, which provides welfare assistance to the Irish community. The parade will begin at 10am and end in the local football grounds, where there will be a family fun day with Irish music and dancing, a ceremony for people who have become Australian citizens, and the GAA clubs’ summer league finals.
For the older Irish community in Perth to have a younger generation of Irish people settling here and creating an event to celebrate Irishness is something very exciting. The day is about bringing together all the Irish community groups for one annual event to celebrate our heritage.
ALFRED SMITH, grand marshal of the New York City St Patrick’s Day Parade
My great grandfather, who was four-time governor of New York, was grand marshal in 1925, and I am honoured to have been selected to follow in his footsteps and lead the biggest parade in the world this year.
I have always embraced my Irish roots, and have been involved in the Irish community in New York City for many years, but this is the icing on the cake.
The parade will be held on Saturday this year. There will be a breakfast at the mayor’s residence, Gracie Mansion, followed by a Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. The 200 marching groups will then begin to gather for the parade, which I will lead on foot, departing from 44th Street, marching up Fifth Avenue, past the cathedral to 79th Street.
The parade is now in its 252nd year – it is a great New York tradition that I feel truly lucky to be part of.
This article appears in the Life section of The Irish Times today.
Also in The Irish Times today, Niall O’Dowd writes from New York about why Irish-Americans need to remember their roots for more than one day each year, Ronan McGreevy reports on the Green projections lighting up buildings in Dublin for St Patrick’s Day.