THIS is the week when we celebrate being Irish. We ask what being Irish really means, and regardless of our answers, we put the head down and soldier on. That is part of who we are, for better or for worse. Strange how this week the man around whom the celebrations revolve was not even Irish!
St Patrick was from across the water. We know him as our favourite Brit! In essence, he was an immigrant. Perhaps it is fitting that An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, will raise the plight of Irish immigrants with President Trump in Washington this week. America celebrates St Patrick, the immigrant, even more so than Ireland.
Being an immigrant is not a popular position to be in at the moment. Many countries are experiencing a heightened sense of ‘nationalism’ in the narrow sense. The country is ours and outsiders are not welcome. Who is an outsider?
It all depends how far back you go. At one stage St Patrick was an outsider in Ireland. He was not brought here because of who he was or welcomed here because he was gifted. He was effectively kidnapped and forcibly brought here, as a slave. Yes, we were once big into slavery and fairly useful at it also. We were not afraid to skip across the pond to our neighbours and help ourselves to some of their women and young men.
Of course that was before we were the Island of Saints and Scholars! Many historians tell us that when St Patrick escaped and returned here by choice, he whipped us into Christian shape, making us a nation of virtuous believers. We then sailed all over bringing faith and knowledge to the European masses.
Long forged links
The lesser-spotted historians will claim a close link with North Africa, most notably, Egypt. The trade routes back then were seafaring, pre-Ryanair times. There are many accepted and established links between Ireland and Egypt, between Irish Catholicism and the Coptic Church.
Kilmeena and Myna Church, for some people, bear links with the Coptic visitors pre-Patrick. St Mena was a third century Egyptian saint, a martyr and miracle worker. Some claim that in western churches he is better known as St Christopher (Christ bearer)! The Fadden More Psalter, (texts of the Psalms), found in an Irish bog in 2006, had a papyrus-lined inside cover, boasting Egyptian links.
Ireland is no stranger to visitors just as most countries of the world are no strangers to the Irish. So Enda Kenny is visiting the USA to meet a man (Donald Trump) whose ancestors were immigrants. They will speak about illegal Irish immigrants to America on the occasion of the worldwide celebration by the Irish of their own favourite immigrant, St Patrick. They might also skirt around the immigrant travel ban to the USA from six countries.
When do you cease to be an immigrant? If your children are born in your adopted country are they still immigrants children? With hundreds of Syrian immigrants ready for Ballaghderreen will their children be Irish or Syrian? Does it matter? If it matters, how much does it matter? On the other hand, does it matter at all?
Regardless, this week we will celebrate. At a time when positive Irish identity has been severely rattled by the revelations of the past fortnight we will still feel good about ourselves on St Patrick’s Day. City centres across the world will come to a standstill at some point next weekend to honour Ireland and the Irish.
On the one hand, many people will wish Enda Kenny well on his US journey, while others will question why the illegal Irish issue has to be broached. If we were worth our salt we would provide adequate work for everyone willing to work. We would prioritise people over banks, and supports over austerity.
Reality has us languishing in the realms of homelessness, unemployment, hospital trolleys, educations cuts and lack of supports for people most in need. These are some of the reasons why emigrants leave.
They are also realities for immigrants here. This Friday, even unknowingly, we celebrate immigration. “In the lilt of Irish laughter you can hear the angels sing…”