I’ve been looking forward to today for the past week – it’s St Patrick’s Day and I’m as excited as a toddler at Christmas. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why March 17th increasingly means more to me, and I think I’m a little closer to nailing it. St Patrick’s Day reminds me to be fully Irish, the Irish person I am when I’m back in Ireland, rather than the Irish expat.
Over the past week, my accent has become a little stronger, and I’ve returned to the old ways of chatting randomly to strangers in stores. I smiled broadly at a gentleman crossing the road yesterday, and I suspect from his reaction I might have featured in the local news as a suspected madwoman giving cause for concern while driving due to her amicable and sunny demeanour.
I’ve today all planned. The decorations were put outside late last night as a surprise, ‘for one day only’ show, (unofficially) joining the annual Global Greening lighting-up campaign organised by Tourism Ireland. At some stage in the day, the magic leprechaun will be leaving a wee bit of Ireland on our neighbours’ doorsteps (and I’m not talking about a little ‘present’ from our Irish Wheaten Terrier). There will be much wearing of the green, and an inability on my part not to wish everyone I meet a very, very happy St Patrick’s Day.
All of this comes with a light and open heart, and a desire to make the day a little brighter and a little happier. If someone rushing to catch their bus this morning breaks into a smile while passing our ridiculously St Patrick-ified house, my day will be made. Because making people feel better is, for me, a very big part of being Irish. Even more important is making people feel connected. Not worrying about starting up a conversation with the person next to you in the subway, on the airplane, in the cinema queue. Because (and I admit in the small island of Ireland, it’s a little more likely) the chances are after a few minutes’ conversation, you can find a connection with anyone. It doesn’t mean you’ll be lifelong friends or even you’ll see them again, but that chance five minutes or so will give you both a glow that will warm your insides for a good wee while. And without any alcohol even being involved.
I’ve realised recently I’ve become as guilty as the next person at keeping myself disconnected. I’m warier, more reluctant to engage, more likely to keep my eyes focused on the ground or something in the distance. But there’s a huge lesson to be learned when a teenage boy in Northern Ireland will still today greet you in the street. Because if there’s just the two of you, it would be unthinkable not to acknowledge each other’s existence in a civilised manner.
Generosity, humour, warmth, the gift of the gab – all characteristics I would associate with my fellow Irishmen and women. My accent has been met with smiles all over the world because the general view is to meet an Irish person is to meet a friend. And even if some of us are at odds with each other back home, it doesn’t matter what part of the island you’re from when you’re off it. The bottom line is you’re Irish. And what better day to forget any divisions than one to celebrate a man born in Roman Britain, mainly associated with the Catholic Church, but buried in a Protestant one in Northern Ireland.
So today I’m getting my green on – and my grin on. I’m going to let my Irish heart rule my head, and I will ensure my Irish eyes are smiling at all times. Given the story goes that St Patrick cast out the snakes from Ireland, my goal for St Patrick’s Day is to banish the blues. Even if that actually is the colour we should be wearing in the first place.
A very happy St Patrick’s Day everyone. I’m hoping to raise a smile and a laugh or two before I think about raising a glass. How about joining me.