St Plastic Paddy’s Day 2020

We’ve less than an hour left in our Feile Phádraic here in Aotearoa. It’s been an unusual one for me. I’m home here in Tāmaki Makaurau waiting for results of an #covid19 assay. If I have the virus it’s one of the 80% of people for whom it’s very mild. But on a recent work trip to Europe I spent time in Spain, Belgium and the UK. And started feeling cruddy on the flights home.

I spent much of Sunday baking soda bread…and much of each subsequent day enjoying soda bread. It’s based on Nana’s recipe and many of her grandkids try to keep the tradition going. Anyone want some virulent soda bread?

I realized a few years ago that I have never, ever, been to school on St Patrick’s Day. In primary and middle school we went with our parents into The City™ and we marched with County Offaly: Pop, my Dad’s Dad was from Birr. As a teenager, we were released to have our own feral experience of the day–but it still involved the parade, just with more day drinking. Bearing in mind that in NYC in the early 80s, the legal drinking age was 18 and we were going to bars…a fair bit earlier than that.

We had an amazing childhood with our clan. We lived in an extended, village-like environment every summer. I got so much time with my grandparents and those aunts and uncles were really more like additional Moms and Dads. Cousins who are like siblings. Very Irish, very indigenous. Being on the other side of the world hasn’t diminished that at all.

Boy I wish we had hung on to our summer house…or upgraded to a better one. Magical times.

Anyway, St Patrick’s Day was a big deal for us. None of us got into Irish dancing or GAA, but the community was important. Both my Dad and my sister became officers in the Co. Offaly group in New York: an ex-girlfriend did too. That meant we were involved with organizing the post-parade gathering, which was always in the same party room above a Chinese restaurant somewhere in Manhattan. Some years there was a band; others just cassettes. But the music was just…great. Rebel songs. Nationalist songs. And proper laments.

It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I noticed them. We were there as members of the clans established in the new world. My grandparent’s eight kids begot 18 grandchildren (and then 35 great-grandchildren). Both arrived in New York with perhaps one contact. It’s kind of amazing that they created this tribe. But there were also the men, mostly in their 40s or older, well into the drink, trying to socialize and stay connected. But these were the other side of the Irish emigrant experience in New York: no spouses, no kids, no clan.

Many decades later, I have a different appreciation for that experience. Not, I’m not in a bad way at all: in seven years in Aotearoa we’ve made good friends and I am married to an awesome man (Sasanach though he may be). Truth be told, we are both adventurous: we’ve lived all over the planet and that suits us. It means being less connected than if you settle in one place for decades, but it’s the life we’ve sought.

But many migrants seek connection and hope to find a home for themselves. And not all migrants find either of those things, but cannot go “home”. Gawd knows anyone who left Ireland because they’re queer would not–until recently–considered ever returning to live in that theocracy. Though things are changing there.

The Simpsons did a rather good piss-take on the Oirish-American stereotypical St Patrick’s Day (take a look if you wish). As is typical of the Simpsons, there’s a lot of layers to it–but mostly it plays off stereotypes of people known as Plastic Paddies: people of Irish descent who have a stereotypical, superficial notion of Irishness. There are, to be sure to be sure, lots of people who fulfil those criteria. But there are also lots of people like my family, who were raised with a strong sense of Irishness, including a deep sense of responsibility to the culture and its continuation.

But your man at the bar, not doing a great job holding a conversation? Muster bit more compassion for him.

Now if there’s one ostensibly Irish song I usually can’t abide, it’s this one. Except for this version, which is just fucking perfect.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s