Needless to say, when Saint Patrick's Day has rolled around every March 17 after my return from Ireland, I've had torn feelings. I like to get tight with the best of them, but now there's a tinge of melancholy in the celebration. It's a distant relation to the pain no doubt expressed by the red-haired man at the beginning of this story. In Irish parts of Great Britain, Saint Patrick's Day, like the 12th of July for the Prostestants, is as much political symbol as day of celebration. Think of it as a painful bit of sugar to make the medicine of colonialism go down.
While I don't advocate everyone sitting around and weeping crocodile tears about the great potato famine on Saint Patrick's Day, I do wish our gleeful embracing of Irish drink and partying was tempered ever so slightly by a realization of the complex, confusing reality of life in Ireland.
That's why I was so struck by the Saint Patrick's Day party I attended two years ago at the home of the Moynahan family in Buena Park. The Moynahans, a deliriously talented Irish clan, throw annual Saint Patrick's Day shebangs that have grown to near-legendary status. There's Irish food in the kitchen, Irish music played by live performers, and Irish stories, tales and lies swapped in the living room. It was, as the Irish say, good "crack."
But late in the evening, a man rose to his feet a bit unsteadily. Speaking with a brogue as thick as potato soup, he asked for everyone's attention. The living room settled into a expectant hush. He was an Irish Catholic priest visiting the States. He spoke a few words about the gathering and then asked for a moment of silence to remember all those, Protestant and Catholic, who have died in the Troubles.
It was a sobering moment, but a reminder that what's truly important about Saint Patrick's Day isn't shit-faced revelry, but rather the celebration of a people-perhaps all people-who are gloriously flawed and terribly beautiful. Soon enough, the thirstier among us went back to getting shit-faced, and celebration descended on us like a panic. Suddenly, there seemed good reason to dance.