Monday, 26 March 2007

St Patrick and his merry band of followers

Having spent this past St Patrick’s day in Itaewon, Seoul I can safely say one thing, I’m sick of people jumping on the bandwagon. I’m Welsh and we celebrate St David’s day, it usually stays in Wales as it has little significance to many others and I like it this way. It’s one day of the year that we overtly celebrate being Welsh, we dress our kids up and wear lapel badges; we sing songs and all talk about Wales in one way or another. I like it, I like the intimacy and I like that it’s ours.

St Patrick’s Day is another matter entirely.

It has been said that the Irish people are Ireland's greatest export (possibly after Guinness) and that is, or was right. There are lots of people all over the world of Irish descent as their Diaspora was caused by famine and general economic blight. Fair enough, but how Irish can you be if you’ve never been there and your only connection to the ‘Mother land’ is a handful of songs, a green T-shirt and a Guinness hangover once a year?

Itaewon in South Korea is a city of foreigners within the capital of Seoul and St Patrick’s day was celebrated here as it may well have been in locations all over the globe, but why and how has this one time religious holiday been so expertly exported and why has it been received so well?

I understand that in the US the day has been around a long time but I still fail to see how dying a river green pays homage to the mother land. The other major point in this is why so many people of non-Irish descent decide to be Irish for a day.
I'm sure the last thing any true Irish man wants is to see some tit in a ‘kiss me I'm Irish’ hat throwing up several pints of Guinness on the doorstep of their local.

Do these people not have their own identity? Do they have to borrow/assimilate from others?

The Americans in work talk about what they are doing for St Patrick’s Day. Why do flag waving Americans who love their country and the American way of life (with all its lexical quirks) suddenly take a day off from being American and convert to being Irish, complete with Irish flag dress and a bloody shamrock painted on each cheek. Are they part time patriots?

I haven’t asked any born and bred Irish people what they think about this borrowing of St Patrick or the pseudo Irish tide that sweeps the world, but if it were Wales and St David’s day were portrayed in this way then I would be none too happy for people to think they could don a rugby shirt, carry a leek around, take the piss out of our accent and get pissed in the name of Wales. No, being Welsh is not something you can slip in and out of when you choose. I’m sure the same applies to Ireland and Scotland too. Why doesn’t it apply to everyone else?

Does the current incarnation of St Patrick’s Day have anything to say about who the 21st century Irish are? Are we to believe that St Patrick’s Day reflects the Irish character and they are all drunk, joke telling, happy idiots?

Well I would suggest that Guinness have had a big hand in it, the proliferation of Guinness hats in Itaewon was testament to that and that may well be why the other saints days aren’t celebrated with such venom, especially in Britain. The marketers from the major breweries in the UK haven’t yet been able to open up the market for the other Saints days, although I’m sure they’re trying.

St Patrick’s Day seems to be nothing more than an excuse to get drunk and act and look stupid, the shamrocks on faces seem to be physical proof to this.

I suppose the main point of what I’m trying to say is about patriotism.
Patriotism is problematic for me as I’m sure you will be able to tell by the end of this. We have no choice where we are born but grow up loving (usually) the place we come from, I come from Wales and we are a patriotic people but Patriotism implies a preference for a specific community and that we have a preference for our town, our county even our continent . I’m ill at ease with saying I’m a patriot. In fact if I look at patriotism as choosing my county or countrymen over others purely based on the fact that they are from the same country or town as me then I would have to say I’m not patriotic. Most of the idiotic, retarded, arrogant and ignorant people I have ever met come from my very own country although I have met more people from Wales than anywhere else. I love my country and I love celebrating and supporting it but I stop at the point where it turns from a fun and enjoyable rivalry with friends into something more sinister.

In football there is the huge debate over club v country and a lot of people choose club over country, in essence choosing the local over the national.

Religion is also an important factor when looking at patriotism as Muslims and Catholics are often seen to be more loyal to their religion than to the country they were born in, giving their loyalty to something other than their nation, the pope in the case of Catholics, Mecca for Muslims.

A few days ago I felt proud of Britain and of being from there when I heard the speech Winston Churchill gave to the British people; we’ll fight them on the beaches etc we’ll never give up but I quickly remembered that I actually don’t care much for the UK except when its all people know. I fight for Britain when arguing against Americans and others who seem to confuse Great Britain, the UK and England, but only because the conversation ends when I say I’m from Wales (They rarely know where it is you see).

Am I less Welsh for feeling a pang of patriotism towards the UK? No, I do however find it hard and strange to actually care about the UK as a whole, maybe now I can see it from afar and on a global scale, the world looks at us all as the UK (or ever more infuriating as England) and we are all, whether we like it or not judged by the union flag.

So to go back to where we started, Can we be patriotic to another country?

Is it OK to be ‘Irish for a day’?

Do we let these people off the hook?

Some people say no, they say you can be patriotic to your own country only and people like George Orwell and Hemingway, who both involved themselves in the Spanish civil war didn't necessarily care about Spain, they aren’t Spanish patriots, rather they just do not want to see the country fall under the rule of fascists. Political motivation supersedes a love for the country.
Alasdair MacIntyre (a Scottish philosopher) would probably argue that these people were idealists and not patriots.

Back to Ireland, is it then fair to say that these people who go over the top with St Patrick’s day are not patriotic (For MacIntyre, patriotism by definition can only be a preference for one's own country) if they're not Irish?
I’m not sure what to make of them but then maybe being patriotic isn’t such a good idea, as Oscar Wilde said “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious."

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