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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 30 July, 2014

Column: How we lost St Patrick’s Day

As I watched the St Patrick’s Day parade march down New York’s Fifth Avenue, the true meaning of our national holiday struck me. And it made me realise many of us fail to understand what March 17 actually represents for our small nation, writes Paul Allen.

Paul Allen

SWAMPED IN A sea of green, I stood looking at the tricolours, the banners and the ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ t-shirts and badges. Fifth Avenue on 17 March is a sight to behold. On this one day every year everyone seems to be Irish, or at least wants to be.

The Irish are revered in New York on St Patrick’s Day, not to mention the thousands of other places around the world that celebrate our national day. We are revered for our culture, our global impact and our ability to welcome people with open arms.

It struck me standing there how other nations must sit back and wonder how a small country like Ireland charmed the world into turning green and celebrating its national holiday every year.

We get unrivalled coverage throughout the globe, gain access to the White House and our representatives are welcomed around the world with open arms.

Why do we grumble about ‘paddywhackery’?

But back in Ireland people grumble. They grumble about our politicians jetting off around the world. They grumble about the green-clad tourists. They grumble at all the ‘paddywhackery’ that takes place.

But love it or loath it, Ireland is represented by shamrocks and leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day.

Indeed, when I was on the streets of New York witnessing people of every colour and creed embrace what it is to be Irish, the only place where there was any hint of Irish bashing was probably back home in Ireland.

Last year we bashed the Gathering, and the very idea of tempting people with Irish connections to return. While this year we’ve been bashing Bono, for trying to promote the Irish people and nation in front of government leaders around the world.

Ireland IS a special place

But standing on Fifth Avenue I realised that for the people there it did not matter who was dressed as a leprechaun, who was wearing a green wig or who was just standing admiring the spectacle — they all knew that this day was about celebrating what a uniquely special place Ireland is. And many of us have lost sight of that.

We have turned into cynics. Indeed, it is often true what Bill Clinton says — the world thinks more of the Irish than the Irish think of themselves.

So, this St Patrick’s Day we should join the rest of the world and celebrate the good things about Ireland and being Irish.

Because, at the end of the day, we have the 365 days every year to turn our attention towards trying to solve the bad things about our small nation.

Paul Allen is Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.com.

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