Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Emigrants organise ‘social media parade for all’

#misefreisin aims to showcase a ‘more authentic image of Ireland’ this St Patrick’s Day

Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 13:09


David Burns

“Irish I was drunk,” is pretty funny the first time you read it on a T-shirt. After the twentieth T-shirt the joke thins out. “I’ll be Irish in a few beers,” is less of a joke but it might give you a chuckle at the sentiment. Read “Irish for a day” on the T-shirt of a Frenchman shouting in heavily accented English for another beer in an absolutely packed pub and you’ll have a revelation.

Not that I mind working in a pub on St Patrick’s Day. It’s busy and normally it’s fun. I don’t mind the jokes much either; I know they’re just jokes. But it’s crazy that French people, British expats and the mix of Algerians, Senegalese, Spanish, German & Parisian students I teach will all pile into the pub for St Patrick’s Day because traditionally— to them— that’s where Irishness is celebrated.

Of course, none of them have the foggiest about the “Irishness” they’re celebrating. Most don’t know Irish is a language. Most can’t tell between Padraig Pearse, Charles Stewart Parnell, Daniel O’Connell or Wolfe Tone, though thankfully there’s Oscar Wilde, whom everybody knows.

St Patrick’s Day in Paris reminds me other people have an idea of the Irish that is wide of the mark. And it isn’t something that our politicians seem particularly eager to counter. In the Global Irish Economic Forum of 2009, Ireland’s image abroad was packaged and sold as “Brand Ireland”, because it was so sellable. The craic-loving and uncomplicated Irishman— a role we once used to play to our advantage before the English— is good for business because foreign investors and potential tourists like him.

But what does it say of us if we don’t show off and take pride in actual Irish society because it’s not as easy to market?

Ireland is, and has always been, a diverse country. It was founded on division; civil war, sectarian strife and partition. Perhaps that’s why difference has such negative connotations in Ireland; perhaps that’s why we cover it up— but, as the Immigrant Council of Ireland continues to report a rise in racist incidents at home, it is becoming increasingly important to recognise and celebrate our diversity as a people.

No one, I trust, will have forgotten the events of last October, when a young Roma girl was seized from her family because she didn’t look like them. Similarly, recent claims that Travellers are being racially profiled on the Garda PULSE system highlight the negative effects a failure to construct a communal and inclusive Irish identity can have on our institutions and on our society.

Ireland needs to make more of an effort in positively promoting and even publicising the diversity that lends this nation its colour. After all, the moral to one of our founding stories— the story of how St Patrick explained the Holy Trinity to the Irish with a shamrock— is that it takes many parts to make a whole.

However, despite this, on the day we celebrate Irishness our Taoiseach will be attending a New York parade that has gained notoriety for its prejudice— a parade that forbids Irish LGBT groups from representing their community in a celebration of Irishness. Worse, when questioned about whether he would at least be wearing a rainbow badge at this parade, the Taoiseach replied in the negative and declared that March 17th was about “our Irishness and not about our sexuality”— drawing a line between the two, as if they are easily separable.

Personally, I don’t believe Enda Kenny shares the prejudices of the parade’s organisers. He just doesn’t want to complicate Irishness for the Americans because that wouldn’t be good for business. But sometimes, it’s more important to think about what’s good for Ireland as a society than it is to think about what’s good for Ireland as an economy.

As a barman, it cheers me to think that while the traditional, drunken St Patrick’s Day celebrations will remain, many groups are celebrating our culture and our country in a more inclusive, honest fashion.

St Pat’s for All, for example, are a group that organise and host a New York St Patrick’s Day event every year for the Irish LGBT community that are excluded by the official NY parade. This year, their March 2nd event was attended by the glamorous, presque-infamous Panti Bliss and the mayor of New York Bill de Blasio, who refused to participate in the official parade because he could not endorse its prejudiced exclusivity— unlike Enda.

This Paddy’s weekend, the St Pat’s for All group is joining other organisations back home, as well as Irish emigrants the world over, in an online, international St Paddy’s Parade that aims to demonstrate our diversity and celebrate a more inclusive Ireland. We’re Coming Back— the campaign for an emigrant vote and sister organisation to the youth group We’re Not Leaving—is running the #misefreisin social media parade as a space to share stories and upload a more authentic image of Ireland.

I’ll be in the Coolín Irish Pub in Paris, but from Perth to San Francisco, Irish people all over will be toasting, tweeting and posting to say #misefreisin –and to showcase a sense of Irishness that’s more complex than T-shirts, leprechaun hats and spilled pints of Guinness.