Saturday, 14 March 2015

*St Patrick's Day in #Dublin: in black and white.*

PICTURE the scene: Dublin, late 1970s. St Patrick's Day.

In a hugely Catholic country, the churches were packed for Mass. Baskets of real shamrock at the doors, for people to pin to their collars.
And then the parade.
Just as now, the St Patrick's Day parades dotted the whole island of Ireland. In Dublin, it wound its way through the city centre, starting at one side of the River Liffey and finishing on the other.
As a Dublin child in the seventies, I never thought about any of this. I would simply stand, in sun, wind, rain and sometimes snow, with the other children, who'd been pushed to the front of the crowd, so we could see.
Year after year, my family trooped dutifully into town to view the parade. Year after year, it remained unchanged.
The big Irish businesses all had their floats. Guinness, Murphys, John Powers Whiskey. International brands, whose factories have supported generations of Irish workers. To a child, their floats were interchangeable: giant bottle-shaped balloons on the backs of lorries. A flash of colour as half a dozen ringleted Irish dancers livened things up with a jig, long before Michael Flatley made our national dance sexy.
White-aproned butchers from the Irish-owned supermarket, Superquinn, walked the route, handing out hot, special recipe sausages, beloved of its customers
Seemingly endless floats advertised various cigarette brands. We tuned them out, as we ate our Curly Wurlys and sucked on endless sticks of tri-colour sugar rock. But we would cheer and wave our flags as St Patrick rode by on his throne.
And then what we'd been waiting for: the American contingent. We gazed in awe as those micro-skirted, majorettes marched and twirled and tossed their batons high into the air. Tanned skin and white teeth and gleaming hair. Teenage boys cheered and wolf-whistled, while our mothers muttered that they'd 'catch their death' by wearing so little.
Fast forward a few decades. The big Irish parades hold their own amongst the countries that celebrate our national day. In Dublin our wonderful St Patrick's Festival unfolds over three days. Our floats are vivid and imaginative and bold, and highlights include Galway-based theatre company Macnas, with their spectacular giant puppets.
But the Dublin parade that I enjoyed as my own children grew, is a far cry from the one of my childhood. Whether we want to admit it, we had a lot to learn about what a parade should be.
Yes, it should be a celebration of our national day. And our culture. But we also needed to celebrate other cultures, our Irishness abroad and increasingly, our diverse society on this little island.
Most of all, we needed to learn that a parade should be colourful and entertaining and fun.
And our neighbours across the Atlantic helped teach us that.

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  1. Is Rock actually still sold anywhere in Ireland? Used to be everywhere.

    April will be 18 years since I first came to Ireland. The Dublin festival is still the same today, but also markedly different. I've read stories and seen old photos about the wholly religious aspect of the day once was. I wonder when the festival part of the day actually began. What was it like in your parents' day?

  2. Hi Kem, as far as I know, the tourist shops still sell it, especially in many of the smaller towns around. But it's true, you used to see it everywhere. I have no idea what the parade was like in my parents' time, to be honest. They're both Dublin people too, so they would have seen the main parade. Whatever that was like. I wonder if anyone remembers it from the 1940s and 1950s? I'd love to hear.

    1. Maybe that's my problem. I don't frequent tourist shops ;-)

      When we lived in Bray, the sweets places on the seafront had it. I've never eaten it but I know it was an Irish custom. When we were in Hereford a few years ago, there was a market stall there that ONLY sold rock candy. Every color you could imagine. The back of my teeth ached just watching by the place ;-)

  3. Thanks Noreen, I really had to dig back into my memory for this. In ways, it all seems like a lifetime ago!!

  4. Great piece Sharon, you captured the essence of the St. Patricks Day Parades Irish style! Our one in Wexford is still the same now as it was when I was a child - a long time ago. My kids used to love going and the wearing of the badge was very important. Now they don't want to go but I'm sure in the future maybe they'll be bring their own kids.It has to be done.

  5. It's funny, isn't it, when kids reach an age where it's no longer of any interest to them? I'm sure they will bring their own children some day, though. I remember when we used to bring our three when they were little. We'd go in on the train; we were one of those families who'd bring a small stepladder with us, and the kids would stand one behind the other on the steps, to get a better view. Very funny, looking back at it!

  6. The shortest St Patrick's Day Parade in Ireland is still held in Coachford, Co Cork. Two pubs in the village with a narrow road between them. The parade starts at one pub and ends at the other :-)

  7. Sorry! Dripsey, the next village to Coachford. Been a while since we lived in the region ;-)

  8. Loved reading your nostalgic post, Sharon - sounds great fun and I think we fully embrace all the magic of it when we're children. Good that it still goes on.

  9. Thanks Rosemary,
    It was quite a simple affair when I was a kid. I'm pretty sure, apart from the majorettes and dancers, the highlight was often the sweets. Don't think I was any different from any other small child, in that respect.

  10. I've heard of that tiny parade, Kem. We were only talking about it the other day. I wonder does everyone start drinking in one pub and continue drinking in the other, at the end of the parade?! I'd imagine it's a bit of a laugh.

    1. I'm sure they do. Makes for a short pub crawl of a Saturday night though ;-)