Two years ago on this date, on a bright spring day, I stood in Cahir Square, Co Tipperary, and watched as representatives from the town’s clubs, schools, sports teams and merchants paraded past Cahir Castle, across the bridge over the Suir, up Castle street and around the square. Among the marchers were Hannah Rose, twins Ava and Michaela, and their big brother Callum, who are grandnieces and a grandnephew of Himself and me. Green, gold and white banners fluttered in the sun. The Cahir River Rescue team, of which Callum’s, Ava’s and Michaela’s father is a member, towed one of their boats in the procession.
After the parade ended, people milled in the streets. Children ate sweets and ices; parents shouted after them as they romped away. In the sun’s warmth, we visited with friends and family and watched as a bandstand was set up. Soon the music began, and local children and musicians sang and played their instruments. Then, as the music ended and the crowd broke up, I began walking down the town and out the road toward the Cahir Golf Club, on my way home. By pre-arrangement, Himself – who had gone ahead on an errand – met me on the road, and together we drove home.
Back in Garryroan – the townland just outside Cahir where our house stands – Peggy, my mother-in-law, had prepared a special meal of lamb and a nice bit of bacon (ham, for all the difference in it), mashed potatoes and cabbage. For Peggy, St Patrick’s day never lost its significance of as a Holy Day. The day began with mass, and the midday dinner would be as important as Sunday dinner. We shared a bottle of wine, and while Himself and I did the dishes – a formidable task always, after one of Peggy’s dinners – she went into the sitting room to rest. Later, Himself and I would meet with others in town for a drink. That evening, RTÉ would broadcast video of parades from all over the country, small towns and large, all with marching bands, children in school uniforms, sports teams in their colours, and, in the larger cities and towns, floats and costumed players, bands from America and beyond, festive amid banners and streamers and crowds.
St Patrick’s day in Ireland is both religious and patriotic holiday, a day off to celebrate both Saint and Country. People wear funny hats, to be sure, oversized bright green furry top hats, or hats representing foaming pints of Guinness. But, more importantly, their collars and labels sprout bunches of fresh shamrock, which is, along with the harp, the symbol of Ireland, the ‘wearing of the green.’
On this evening three years ago, Himself and I, along with his brother, walked through the rain and the muck of a terrible ‘durty’ evening across the fields outside Cashel, Co Tipperary. There a spectacular fireworks display and laser show was one of the national festive events to mark the day. The fireworks went ahead despite the rain. I stood on a hillside looking over the magnificent, historic Rock of Cashel and watched as rockets exploded against the murky sky. It was my first year living in Ireland and I felt a strange disconnect seeing a patriotic display comprising gold, green and white rather than red, white and blue. It was another in a string of adjustments, large and small, I hadn’t anticipated but which made sense in the moment.
This evening, I’m typing this in a room growing darker with the oncoming dusk. It has been grey and rainy all day, and I feel far from the festivities of Ireland or, for that matter, from the American exuberance surrounding the day. Soon, however, Himself will be home from the office. We’re both wearing our badges of shamrock encased in plastic, as we do every year on this day. We’ve planned to meet with some others from his office at an Italian restaurant for dinner. Then we’ll go up a narrow gasse under glowering Mönchsberg to Murphy’s Law, a pub run by a sometimes cantankerous Corkman. It will be crowded with Austrians, most likely, with a smattering of Americans and a handful of Irish, the noise and the crush growing as the evening goes on.
But now, in this quiet before we go out into the crowd, I pause for a moment to think of the hedgerows across from our house in Garryroan. Today they will still be brown and bronze after the harsh winter, but perhaps the bracken is just beginning to green. Perhaps there is the faintest haze of green as the beeches across the fields begin to bud.
And perhaps Peggy – if you were still there, Peggy – perhaps you would have brought in some willow, the catkins just swelling. We might even be able to find, were we there to look, the first of the pale primroses, half-hidden under the fall’s scatter of old leaves, the sight of which, Peggy, would bring a flush of child-like joy to your face. For me, that would make St Patrick’s day complete.
Beannachtaí Lá le Pádraig to all.