I LIVED IN France for eight years and was struck by the number of dates that are commemorated there. May 8 – end of World War II; July 14 – anniversary of the storming of the Bastille; November 11 – end of World War one. The list goes on.
I first became aware of this shortly after I arrived there. It turned out it was the morning of May 8 and I was on my way to the local bakery. I turned a corner and ran straight into a procession coming against me. There were three or four guys out front carrying French tricolours. After that a small group of wizened men in their eighties or older, wearing medals with brightly coloured ribbons, the two local gendarmes, then younger men. And after that, much of the rest of the village.
I fell in behind and followed them to the village war memorial. Here the national anthem, La Marseillaise was sung and flags were lowered. Since they didn’t have a real live trumpeter, they played a scratchy recording of the Last Post. The mayor made a speech. It was simple and beautiful and very moving.
After that, of course, being France, there was food and wine at the town hall and later, families would celebrate themselves with lavish meals.
But I quickly came to realize that it wasn’t just these big dates that were celebrated. Often I would come across a cluster of cars, boot doors open and men unsheathing flags, donning berets, pulling on blazers with medals. ‘What’s it for?’ I would ask. ‘The end of the Algerian War,’ would come the reply. Or the war in Indo-China. Or some other long forgotten conflict or event. The first village I lived in marked an incident that had occurred at the beginning of the 20th century when more than a dozen of the village children were killed in an accident involving fireworks. Who knew?
And it dawned on me that we Irish celebrate very few dates. I think there’s a date in (is it?) July when we remember the Irish who died in conflict. And I have a vague memory that we remember Holocaust Memorial Day – is it January 27, the day Auschwitz was liberated by the Russians?
‘Some days should be remembered’
Because there are some days which should definitely be remembered. The day the 1916 Rising began, for instance. Ask a hundred Irish people what date that was and my guess is that 99 of them would get it wrong. I did. It’s actually April 24 – the day the fuse was lit that founded the Irish Republic. The day that Clarke, Mac Diarmada, MacDonagh, Pearse, Ceannt, Connolly and Plunkett, changed the face of Ireland forever.
And now we need to add to that 29 September – the day of the bank guarantee – the day that lit the fuse for the founding of the second Irish republic.
The troika probably wouldn’t allow us an extra day off but we could still have a parade. It wouldn’t be a lavish one of course, like the St Patrick’s Day parade. Rather, an austere parade, if you can have such a thing. In the capital it would start at AIB headquarters in Donnybrook, then on to the former Irish Nationwide building, past Bank of Ireland headquarters in Baggot Street, stopping at the former Anglo building on Stephen’s Green and ending up at Leinster House.
Down the country, people could parade to the nearest ghost estate. Here they could sing the national anthem, Das Deutschlandlied and – if they wanted to out of nostalgia for the old days – Amhrán na bhFiann.
People could dress up as the people who again changed Ireland forever – Bertie, Neary, Goggin, Sheehy, Fingelton, Seanie and Biffo. For those able to dine out, restaurants would advertise ‘feed four for a fiver’ menus. Airlines would offer special rock-bottom fares for those having to emigrate. In the evening there would be a televised address by Chancellor Merkel. (Our own President or Taoiseach could do one too, if they wished.) Ms Merkel would tell us how well behaved we’ve been so far and that there’s only another sixty years to go. She’d point out that ‘sure it’s nothing’ – the German war reparations after World War One took nearly a hundred years.
Finally, at the exact hour when the bank guarantee was agreed – I’m sure a Freedom of Information request can find that out – the lights in every household in the country would be turned off. That’s if they haven’t already been cut off.
The day that changed the nation forever. National Muppets Day. September 29.
Fergus O’Connell writes about good management and productivity. His books are available here.