It’s St Patrick’s day, and I’ve invited Irish freelance writer, Mary Costello, to be my guest blogger. Mary gives us a few tips on what not to do on St Patrick’s Day. Enjoy, and have a very Irish day 🙂
“It’s St Patrick’s Day, and ex-Pats everywhere will be expected to trot out the blarney, down multiple pints of the black stuff, and sing 47 verses of Danny Boy. Don’t blame us exiles. To be sure we play up, we do the leprechaun; but foreigners expect that kind of thing and we don’t like to disappoint.
It happens all year round, but it’s in plague proportions mid-March. Wherever we are in the world locals accost us with, “Ah to be sure, to be sure,” Or “Begorrah and bejapers,” – all in their atrocious Ballykissangel accents. I’ve tried to tell them that no Irish person has ever said either of those things; that we don’t even know what they mean.
I live down here in Oz. There is no Irish quarter in Melbourne, where we could congregate and sing, “The Old Bog Road. There are no Irish fast-food outlets, serving potato bread, Ulster fries or fresh baps. True, there are purportedly Irish pubs, from Port Melbourne to Abu Dhabi, but that’s strictly the Disney version of home, not to be taken seriously by anyone passing as the genuine article.
There is a Celtic Club. It’s the real Mc Coy. I’ve been there once or twice, but the shamrock-patterned carpet gave me a migraine; and there wasn’t that much on offer for the non-drinking vegetarian exile.
Practitioners of crass Celtickery are usually second generation. But at this time of year even fresh exiles get homesick and act the lig. There are gatherings of the tribes in exotic places like New York, where real Irish people, who should know better, turn out in neon green, decorated with giant paper shamrocks, walking over-heated wolfhounds and singing that American ditty When Irish Eyes are Smiling.
Of course those of you who actually live in our emeraldest of isles aren’t obsessed with your Irishry. You blasé residents don’t think even think about it. It’s a fact of your existence, like gender and hair colour. But the exile can’t help but flaunt the old ethnic origins, like the mark of Cain. It’s not our smiling eyes, nor cascades of red ringlets that give us way. We pasty-faced types tend to blend in, until we open our mouths.
Then someone always exclaims: “Aha! You’re Irish!” Yes, I am, and it’s lovely. I’m very lucky. I might have been born in Kosovo, or Palestine or Afghanistan, and then where would I be? But I take no credit for an accident of birth. And being Irish isn’t my only, nor even my dominant characteristic.
But then someone else will say: “I see you’ve still got that gorgeous accent.” And why wouldn’t I still have it? Every day for the past 30-odd years people have been telling me how gorgeous it is. I’ve had no incentive to get rid of it.
Then comes the truth: “My mother’s Irish.” Of course she is. Everyone is ultimately Irish, from Bill Clinton to Grace Kelly, from Kiri Te Kanawa’s mother to Muhamed Ali’s great-granda. Because we populated the earth.
The locals must give us our due. Ramadan, Hanukkah and Chinese New Year have come and gone and it’s our turn for a bit of attention and sympathy. We’ll be needing it. We’ll be homesick. We’ll be yearning for the green Glens of Antrim, the hills of Donegal, the fields of Athenry, and a neat little town they call Belfast.
Now, as an aid to inter-racial harmony, I’m issuing the following guidelines to locals, on how to handle a homesick Irish person on St Patrick’s Day.
- try not to refer to us Paddies as ‘Colleen’, ‘Paddy’, ‘Boyo’ or ‘Jock’ – people sometimes get confused,
- steer clear of Irish jokes, unless you’re up for a five-hour political discussion,
- don’t say: “My ancestors came from Ireland – the Cromwells of Drogheda”,
- patronise no drinking establishment selling green beer,
- on no account do the “Begorrah and bejapers” routine,
- don’t tell us you used to work in Belfast – you were in the SAS.
- And, crucially, although Danny Boy would take the tear out of a glass eye, there are other Irish songs; e.g. Mustang Sally. So don’t ever, ever ask any Irish person to sing that sweet old Derry Air. Because they’ll definitely oblige; and then you’ll be the sorry one.
Not that anyone will listen. They’ll be rolling up to me tomorrow, waving a bottle of something like Jameson, and yelling, “I love the Irish, mate – that Billy Connolly is bloody brilliant”.”
– Mary Costello