THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: FLAIR, COLOUR AND FESTIVITY
The Democratic Republic of Congo will celebrate Patrick’s Day with a colourful display of drumming and song in Cork.
“We’ll be wearing our traditional Congolese clothes and we’ll carry the Irish flag and the Congolese flag together to show our unity,” Dally Monanga says.
Dally says Congolese culture is centred around regular get-togethers with music and dancing, and that the Patrick’s Day parade is an ideal opportunity to show off the flamboyant sides of Congolese life.
“Congolese people love enjoying life,” he says. “We always get a good response at the St Patrick’s Day parade from our friends and neighbours in the audience.”
Dally has lived in Ireland for ten years and feels he’s in an ideal position to help people from the Congo to settle and integrate into Irish life.
“Many Congolese people arrive here only speaking French,” he says. “Some also live in the accommodation centres in Kinsale Road and the Glenvera Hotel, so they can’t work. That makes it very difficult to feel part of a community. When they leave those centres, they need to learn how to live in Irish society: paying bills, and learning all the different necessities of Irish life, so many of them feel lost. I want to help.”
Dally says it’s hard to know how many Congolese people live in Cork, but that they generally get a positive reception.
LITHUANIA’S CENTENARY CONNECTION
Cork’s parade theme this year is ‘Democracy For All — 100 Years of the Vote for Women’ and Cork’s Lithuanian population feel there’s something worth marking there, because it’s also the centenary of Lithuanian independence this year.
Similar to in Ireland, it was independence from a colonising force that gave rise to suffrage, after Lithuania gained independence from the Russian empire in February, 1918.
“It’s a nice connection,” says Monika Balse who got involved in organising the Lithuanian contribution to the parade this year when her predecessor returned to Lithuania.
“We’ll have green capes, bordered with the national patterns connecting Ireland and Lithuania. We are making big flowers with 100 in the middle.
“I’m here since 2002, and the thing I love most about Ireland is how welcoming and friendly the people are,” Monika says. “There’s something in common between Lithuania and Ireland, because we’ve both experienced a long history of fighting oppression and occupation and losing our language.”
Cork’s close-knit Lithuanian community provides a vital support network, Monika says: “If you travel and move from country to country, you don’t have the connections and knowledge about the place. If you can meet with people who have been there for longer, they can help you out. But as well as helping and supporting each other, it can help you to engage or participate in the wider life of the place that you are in.”
NIGERIA’S IGBO NATIONAL CELEBRATION IRISH AND IGBO IDENTITY
Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, largely centred around the south-east of Nigeria. In Ireland, the Igbo Union is a well-organised cultural community group, formed to help Igbo people living in Ireland keep their heritage alive, as well as to aid in integration and participation in Irish life.
For the past seven years, Cork people have been treated to the Igbo Union’s colourful contribution to the Patrick’s Day parade, and this year will be no different: Igbo Union spokesman Ben Uzoma says it’s become an important part of the group’s annual calendar.
“We’ll wear our national costume, and we’ll dance to our cultural music,” Ben says. “It’s a very friendly welcome and everybody claps their hands for us as we pass and comes to take group pictures with us.”
He has lived in Cork for 17 years and helps to organise lots of events.
“We want to give back to this society and to integrate, but at the same time to promote our culture. St Patrick’s Day used to be only a celebration of Irish culture, but now it involves different cultures coming together and that makes it even more unique.
“It’s very colourful, and it’s very good fun.”
REBUILDING NEPAL AND CELEBRATING CORK CONNECTIONS
Cork’s small community of Nepalese people will celebrate their New Year in early April. But in the meantime, the St Patrick’s Day festivities are a welcome chance to celebrate their heritage.
Parade organiser Shukra Neupane has lived in Ireland for 15 years and says there are around 150 Nepalese people living in Cork, including students. He says a sense of community for Nepalese people living in Cork is “most needed: your language, and everything that matches to your fellow countrymen needs to be remembered. Our children should know about our culture, because they might go back there, but this is their first country and we want them to have good connections here too.”
Nepal was hit by two earthquakes in 2015. The disasters displaced around 3.5 million people, and for a country beset by poverty and social inequity, it’s been a huge struggle to try to rebuild. Shukra says ex-pats are playing a vital role in relief and reconstruction efforts.
He was a founding member of the Non-Resident Nepali Association in Ireland: “Our international co-ordination committee is building 600 homes for people who lost their houses,” he says. “We can also help spread the message to Irish people that Nepal is open for business again. Tourism is a really important way that our international friends can help, by building up our economy. Nepal is a beautiful country.”
INDIA LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
Cork’s Indian community will celebrate 100 years of Indian independence at the Patrick’s Day parade, and because the Republic of India was officially recognised in 1950, this parade contribution will include a glimpse into the future and Indian hopes and dreams for democracy in 2050.
Dr Lekha Meno Margassery and Sreelakshmy Selvaraj have organised this year’s parade contribution on behalf of Cork’s Indian community, which amounts to between 350 to 400 families as well as many UCC students.
“We are planning a transition showing 100 years from 1950 to 2050, with placards of the different time periods,” says Dr Margassery, a research scientist and the President of the UCC Indian Alumni Community.
“We’ll show everything from no democracy at all under British rule, to getting democracy in 1950, through to the 1970s when we had the first female Prime Minister, Indira Ghandhi.”
Born in Tamil Nadu and raised in Kerala, Dr Margassery came to Ireland with her husband to study ten years ago.
“We really enjoy the parade because it’s the first big holiday after Christmas. It’s an opportunity to dress up and do face-painting, and it’s really nice to see so many people cheering us on and having a good time. It’s great fun.”