17 things to do on St Patrick’s Day that don’t involve parades
Hilary Fannin: Stay in bed, phone your mother, listen to an album with your eyes closed
“It’s a personal issue; I get pretty edgy around fervour, flags, flagons, face paint and festivities”
Crawling out of my igloo in search of my laptop and a tincture of whale oil to moisten my chapped knuckles, it occurred to me that this column will collide with St Patrick’s Day, a day that I generally abhor.
It’s a personal issue; I get pretty edgy around fervour, flags, flagons, face paint and festivities. And while appreciating the organisers’ valiant and undoubtedly successful efforts to drag Lá ’le Pádraig out of the clutches of the mildewed past and turn it into a weekend-long Mardi Gras (albeit without much sunshine), my memories of damp crowds and military bands and wary children released from their boys’ home for the day to beat their feeble drums have permeated the date for me, and there is a sadness to it that I still can’t quite shake off.
However, I have vented my spleen about our national holiday before in these pages, so maybe I should desist. Instead, in preparation for the day when we celebrate the man with the great big crozier, I decided it might be time for something cheerier. I thought I might enumerate 17 ways to enjoy the day that don’t involve shaking pompoms, twirling batons or wearing a mephitic majorette costume replete with thigh-high patent-leather boots (though don’t let me stop you if you’re so desirous).
In the interest of full disclosure, I should warn you that this list is idiosyncratic, and deeply unadventurous.
So: 17 Things to Do on St Patrick’s Day That Don’t Involve Parades.
1 Go to the beach. Any beach. Regardless of the weather. The beach is brilliant. It’s rocky and sandy and free. Waves beat. Gulls screech. If you walk far enough, you’ll probably find seals or driftwood. If you look hard enough and you’re of a literary bent, the driftwood will be sculpted by the elements to look like Samuel Beckett or James Joyce. You’ll recognise these faces from those (all-male) Irish writers’ tea towels that the souvenir shops are still peddling all over town.
2 Avoiding town and city centres, go for a quiet pint. The options are endless. Bring a book and don’t talk to anyone.
3 Don’t just bring any book, bring an Irish book. (It’s St Patrick’s Day, for Jaysus’ sake.) If you haven’t already read it, bring Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone. It’s brilliant.
4 If there’s even a smell of sunshine, go to a forest – the country is full of them – and bathe in dappled light. The Japanese are mad for this kind of thing. Forest bathing, it’s said, reduces stress, boosts the immune system and improves overall feelings of wellbeing. It’s also free.
5 Stay in bed. (This might cost you.)
6 Phone your mother. If you have a mother.
7 Lie on the kitchen floor and listen to an entire album with your eyes closed. The cat will think you’re dead and may start to eat you. Your dog won’t eat you, it’ll just lie down beside you and break wind until you get up again.
8 I know he wasn’t first-generation Irish, but as you’re already reading Beatlebone and Liverpool is really just another Irish county, listen to whatever John Lennon you can get your liver-spotted hands on.
9 As you’re lying there anyway, let yourself cry. It’s very good for you. It goes without saying that the cat will be utterly unmoved. The dog may need therapy.
10 Feeling better? I bet the garden centre is open.
11 Don’t just wear green, be green. Buy yourself a keep cup and tell the man in the supermarket that you like your cucumbers in the raw.
12 Make soup.
14 I’m not sure why, but on St Patrick’s Day I think about the children of this country who bore the brunt of a past speckled with, some might say steeped in, terrible darkness. Somehow, for me, the day has become synonymous with that darkness. Read Paula Meehan’s poem The Cardboard Suitcase or google “Letterfrack poetry trail” and listen to her recite it. Better still, go to Letterfrack and follow the poetry trail yourself. It will lead you to the graveyard behind the old industrial school, a place for salutary reflection.
15 While you’re in the area, walk in Connemara National Park and climb Diamond Hill. Remember that even if the sun is splitting the stones in every other rough acre of the country, you’ll get soaked – so bring a change of clothes.
16 The National Gallery is mainly free. Sit in the cafe and watch the people. Sooner or later, everyone looks like a moving portrait.
17 Enjoy. And don’t eat the shamrock!