It’s that time of year again – St. Patrick’s Day. The one day when the world is painted green. From the green lights cast on the Empire State building of New York to the Sydney Opera house and London’s Big Ben, there’s no other country on the planet that is celebrated as much and as widely on its national holiday as Ireland. What is it about Ireland that encourages such festivity? Well, I would argue it has very little to do with the land, lakes or landmarks; much rather it is the Irish people that are truly worth celebrating.
Being Irish means loving and drinking a good cup of ‘tae’ (sometimes in equal proportion to ‘the black stuff’). It means being able to finish a Father Ted quote without thinking. It means going on holidays and finding the Irish pub. It means trad sessions in the local. It means calling yourself a Catholic but only going to mass at Christmas. It means ‘I will yea,’ ‘ara sure look,’ ‘jaysus,’ ‘grand so’ and ‘savage’ are all part of your vernacular. It means always having something to complain about (especially the weather). We Irish are hilarious and hypocritical, celebrators and complainers, dancers and dreamers – and proud, proud people.
From our inception, Ireland and its people have been a proud nation. The Irish Free State, established in 1922 (later to become known as the Republic of Ireland) was born after years of bitter fighting for freedom from the British Empire. It’s no wonder, therefore, that the pride of being Irish and the love for our country is so deeply ingrained in all of us (and that undeniable competitiveness when placed against the Brits in any kind of competition!) This pride is part of what makes us great. You will find no greater supporters than the Irish, travelling all over the world for soccer matches, rugby, boxing, horse-riding etc. As a small nation, we don’t have as many sports superstars, and the resources to produce them as many of our neighbouring countries do, but when the likes of the O’Donovan brothers or UL’s very own Thomas Barr emerge out of the shadows – the whole country gets behind them.
Then there’s all the creative folk that our fair island has produced; from Hozier to the astounding Riverdance dancers, the genius of W.B Yeats and the beautiful Saorise Ronan, Ireland is known for and can be proud of its people and their contribution to the artistic world. Perhaps our creative folk produce such varied material due to the paradoxical fact that the Irish are both home birds and travellers. From necessity to wanderlust, the Irish have populated the globe with O’Sullivans, Murphys and Walshes, with roughly one million Irish-born people currently living around the world. Wherever we went, we brought our most valued asset; the Irish spirit and culture. We brought Irish dancing to the UK, Irish music to the US and GAA to Australia. Sure, it might just have been us participating for the most part, but there’s something nice about our refusal to leave behind what we’ve known, even whilst embracing the new.
However it has to be noted, we don’t just barge into everyone else’s country without returning the favour! The Irish are renowned for their hospitality and welcoming nature. One of the only Irish phrases we all get right is the beautiful, “Céad mile fáilte,” translating as “one hundred thousand welcomes.” From tourists to asylum seekers, adventurers to economic migrants, the Irish people envelop all in their compassion and warmth. This compassion has led to many young people embarking on vocational trips to places as far as Kenya or Ghana, and influential activists such as Adi Roche, Bob Geldof, and Fr Hugh O’Flaherty.
Ireland, once seen as a small, insignificant, old fashioned country, is now a hub of multinational companies, IT firms and highly respected universities. The change Ireland has undergone in recent years is truly remarkable. This, I believe, is entirely down to the forward-thinking, inspiring, and hardworking men and women of Ireland. The once crippling influence of the Catholic Church has been significantly reduced, resulting in our republic becoming the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote. This show of understanding, empathy and kindness would never have happened a decade ago. Currently, there’s an ongoing campaign for abortion to be outlawed as a crime in Ireland. Regardless of what side you are on, or which way the eventual vote will go, it is a victory that Ireland has reached the stage where we can all discuss important issues such as these, in a mature and reasonable way.
This change is a credit to the empathetic, forward-thinking youth of our remarkable country and I can’t wait to see the future Ireland this generation will create. I am sure it will make Ireland and its people an even prouder institution.