Perhaps unsurprisingly, I like celebrating St Patrick’s Day. Who can object to a merry pint of Guinness or three, a convivial slurp of the Bushmill’s or clinking Sláinte with a slug of Jamesons? Pass the potato bread, the soda farls and the wheaten loaf! I’ll have a crisp from Mr Tayto too, if I can find a packet. For me it’s a celebration of my Irish heritage. And that’s something of which I am intensely proud.
As a child I spent sublime holidays with my Dublin cousins and also with my granny and aunts in the countryside of County Down, not so very far from those Dark Mournes. My granny, a tiny little woman, may as well have been ten feet tall. She was powerful, argumentative, clever and commanding. I wish I had spent more time with my old granny now and I regret that I can barely recall my granddad, her husband, at all.
Granny taught me a whole lot of things despite being (as so many women of her class and age were) largely unschooled. The darkness of her rural home meant she could point out the stars and constellations of the night skies to us wee ones from the back garden. She grew much of her own produce in her garden and was a sensational baker. But most of all she liked some silliness and mischief. At Easter time she’d take us to roll hard boiled eggs down the hill. I’m convinced she enjoyed that more than anyone.
We also saw our share of The Troubles from her house outside Newry. (It is so Irish to refer to the horrid things that happened in those grim years as simply, ‘The Troubles’.) We weren’t that far from the border so patrolling soldiers were commonplace. The local Dunnes was bombed one day and we watched the plume of smoke rise up from Newry having been there not so many moments before
Yes. My mother and her family come from those 6 counties of Ulster that we have come to call Northern Ireland. But I have no qualms about claiming my Irish heritage. St Patrick is Saint of all Ireland. He’s buried in Downpatrick after all, north of a border set less than a century ago. He wouldn’t worry about how the island of Ireland has been divided up these days. He’d see one Irish island, I think. I hope he’d be pleased that things have been getting that much better of late.
I’m certain my granny would be in favour of the peace we’ve seen. I like to think in these better times that I could persuade her round to my hope for a united Ireland. We’ll never know: but she did like a good argument. I know where I get that from
Not long before she died, my granny paid me what I’m certain was a compliment: “You’ve got the blarney.” And, for me, that makes me Irish enough.