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Happy St Patrick's Day, Please Leave Your Sentimentality At The Door

I won't be breaking any Guinness World Records.

17/03/2017 9:44 AM AEDT | Updated 17/03/2017 9:48 AM AEDT
Peter Nicholls / Reuters
"One yearly constant is my mates making hangover jokes at me on Saturday."

One time my mate Dave, from Dublin, was driving through Glebe when he got pulled over by a cop.

After looking at Dave's overseas driver's license the cop commented something like "ah, you Irish. All you're good for is drink and having a lead foot."

"And building your cities," Dave replied.

I think about that comment every St Patrick's Day.

Brendon Thorne via Getty Images
Patrons celebrate Irish heritage and culture on St Patrick's Day at the Mercantile Hotel Irish pub in Sydney, Australia, in 2016.

I don't really celebrate it. Like a lot of Irish immigrants of my generation, I sort of escaped the mournful longing for home that came to typify the Irish-Australian experience. I'm also not much of a drinker, so the modern interpretation of St Paddy's escapes me.

While the Mercantile Hotel in the Rocks will be packed today, it's not a shade on some of the U.S. parades that erupt every year.

I asked my mum why St Pat's Day isn't such a big deal here in Australia, despite the number of Australians who claim Irish heritage. Unlike waves of Irish migrants since the early 1900s, travelling back 'home' isn't an issue for this generation.

She pointed out it's not a big deal in Ireland (except in Dublin), and the American love of the day is rooted in sentimentality (or being a 'plastic paddy,' as Dave with the lead foot would say, his favourite description for people who say they're Irish but have never been.)

Ireland changed, my mum said, and the community links that brought people together aren't as obviously necessary for young Irish who can now travel and return home. In other generations, when you travelled overseas, it could mean you'd never return home. Tight expat communities were important, a survival tactic.

It's less the case now, with the inter-connectedness of the Internet and the relative ease of mobility.

It should be taken into account that, as well as being a celebration of Ireland itself, St Patrick's Day is also a religious observance (St Pat brought Christianity to Ireland). Given what's been revealed about the Irish Catholic Church and child sex abuse, this generation can be forgiven for re-thinking the celebration, or not thinking of it much at all.

But it isn't just Ireland that changed.

I have vague memories of a big parade through Sydney after I first arrived in Sydney in 1989. A big green stream-of-a-thing down George Street and up to Central before there was a big party in a park.

This year it's a concert in a park, but no parade. One yearly constant, though, will be my mates making hangover jokes at me on Saturday.

Back in the '80s and '90s, Ireland's contribution to Australia was more celebrated, with former Prime Minister Bob Hawke a big fan. Paul Keating, too, having visited while he was PM.

That attitude began to change with the election of John Howard, who was desperate to bring Australia even closer to England. He only visited Ireland once, in 2006 at the tail end of his decade-long prime ministership.

Matters weren't helped when exceedingly popular prime minister Tony Abbott released this fiddle dee dee potatoes-type message to his Irish-Australian countrymen a few years ago, rehashing a dumb line about songs he'd tracked out at Kirribilli one time when welcoming the English Cricket team.

(The first time I heard him say this, at Kirribilli, I gritted my teeth and said "and building your f--king cities" a little *too* loudly).

Anyone who paid attention to Abbott's message back in Ireland was insulted, including the Irish PM Enda Kenny (Taoiseach, for those playing at home).

"There has been a long-term view of a stage Irish perception. I reject that. I think it's really important that we understand that we have a national day that can be celebrated worldwide, St Patrick's Day," said Kenny.

I agree with Enda here. While I don't normally 'celebrate' St Patrick's Day, I do recognise what it means, in the same way I recognise what Australia Day means.

So, in that spirit, while I won't be kitted out in green or wearing a big stupid hat, instead of avoiding St Patrick's Day I will raise a glass to my ancestors and listen to some decent traditional music.

Cheers.


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