What does it mean to be Irish today?

On this lockdown St Patrick's Day, JULIE HELEN muses over the unique Irish identity
What does it mean to be Irish today?

Blarney Castle is lit up green

HAPPY St Patrick’s Day. What does it really mean to be Irish in 2021? Has the core of who we are changed due to a global pandemic? Our Céad Míle Fáilte, our world renowned welcome has been quietened. In ordinary times there would be a wealth of tourism keeping our county and country going.

I live very close to Blarney, a world famous heritage site. Particularly American and Australian tourists find the castle and the legend behind the gift of the gab, fascinating. There are no castles in their vast lands, their history is very different. I remember when our Australian cousins would visit, they would get ridiculously excited about visiting our local landmark. We of course take it entirely for granted!

My usual standpoint is to avoid Blarney between March and October, especially at peak times because the crowds and the coaches make it impossible to park and move around. St Patrick’s Day would usually attract many visitors and the shops would be stocked with all kinds of green gifts! This year and last, the shops are closed, parades and festivities are cancelled and even the second time round, it feels weird.

Even more strange than large festivals not going ahead is the pubs being closed. The Irish Pub is so iconic, it has been replicated all over the world. I’ll be honest, I was never a real pub person until I met my husband David. I was more of a “let’s go out for dinner” kind of girl”. Dave showed me that his community centres in the pub in Ahiohill. It is such a welcoming place where I’m as likely to be offered tea and chocolate as a foamy pint. All the community events ensure there is a role for the pub, it is a real hub. Passing on the road most community members will call in to say hello and the celebrations, parties, vintage runs and family fun days and fundraisers have been wonderful to be part of.

Now, the pubs are closed. We can’t share a drink on St Patrick’s Day. It doesn’t mean however that community gone. The community spirit is pulsing just underneath the surface waiting until we can all meet. I would love a chat and banter today with friends. I would love to visit houses and eat, drink and enjoy company. We stay away to keep each other safe. My goodness, I’d love to go to a good concert, even a small intimate one in an aforementioned pub! Music and craic is part of who we are.

Living with integrity and caring for others is also part of our identity as Irish people. Our frontline workers have shown their true colours throughout the pandemic. People go above and beyond for each other. This is actually one of the things that makes me nervous about being out in the world now. As a person with a disability, I have relied on the goodwill and support of friends, family and strangers for small and big things. Now we are keeping our distance and that natural inclination to help is muted.

Having to almost demand help is a lot worse of a position to be in. I know people are genuinely good and want to help, whether it’s opening a door, taking something off a supermarket shelf or giving my wheelchair a push. It’s just not fair to ask or expect it at the moment.

At our core, we are still the same, our community will come alive again our selflessness will shine, our lives will take on renewed richness. We just have to hang in there a little while longer. Happy St Patrick’s Day.

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