” . . . dear Saint of our Isle.
On us thy poor children
Bestow a sweet smile.”
We often sang this doggerel in honour of St Patrick, not in the Green Isle but in the world’s biggest island, Australia. But on his feast-day, today, we pulled out all stops – and the corks out of the bottles of anything alcoholic we could find. “Hail glorious” was followed by the inevitable “Danny Boy” and “Galway Bay”, though few of us ever had, or ever would have, the opportunity to see Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty and kids are called “gossoons” (I suppose from the French “gosse”).
Today in New York, which is just waking up as I write this at midday in South-West France, the city and its citizens, and even their Hudson River, will turn green. And everyone, including Jewish people (but not, I suppose, Muslims) will become Irish if not Catholic for the day. The parade with its giant inflated balloon-figures will stop the traffic and bring out the whole city before the bars are filled and the Guinness begins to flow. All good, meaningless fun. No one gives a damn anymore about Patrick or the religion he brought across the Irish Sea.
Some of us, however, cannot shake off the nostalgia that comes with March 17. Historians will measure the sea-change that began in the sixties and that has transfigured the face of Catholicism, I hope, forever. In just a couple of generations we have left behind, put aside, thrown out, the hymns, the Mass-going, the Parish Mission, the Rosary, “visits to the Blessed Sacrament” and the sacralization of the clergy. I celebrate today the good fortune I have had in leaving the Irish Catholic heritage behind me. If I had not gone on the wagon six years ago, I would break out both the Guinness and the Tullamore Dew. “Every man deserves his Dew”.