The following is a transcript of a fictional interview I was commissioned to do with Foreigners Magazine, a weekly publication which helps foreign people understand other cultures and traditions. On Wednesday March 13th I sat down with Johnny Foreigner (the founder of the magazine) to give him my thoughts on the culture of St. Patrick’s Day, Irelands national holiday, which grips Ireland and the world, every March 17th. Johnny is a fictional character, mostly a composite of my own xenophobia and his questions are based on years and years of me hearing similar questions from people of various nationalities that I have encountered on St. Patrick’s Day. I imagine he speaks like Manuel from Fawlty Towers. His grammar has mostly been corrected for the purposes of easy reading.
Johnny Foreigner: So Cian, you are here to talk to us today about St. Patrick’s Day, a day which I and all of my readers hold dearly to our hearts. All of us remember our first Patty’s Day, walking into a -…
Cian Mulligan: I actually have to stop you there Johnny, as you have made one of the worst mistakes of St. Patricks Day, which is referring to it as Patty’s Day. I hear this mistake a lot from non-native English speakers, but you have to get the pronunciation right… it’s PaDDy’s Day. Paddy is the short version of Patrick. Patty is the short form of Patricia. Patricia is a girls name.
JF (waving his hands in the air): Mamma Mia! I am so embarrassed already, for me and my entire family. I have been wrong all these years. But with this statement you have pre-empted and answered my first question, which was about why you are qualified to talk to us about this important topic. Just with this statement you have proved this however, and I salute you for it.
CM: No problem.
JF: Oh you are so kind! But where did I get Patty from, may I ask?
CM: If in doubt: blame the Americans. That’s what I always say.
JF: Hahahahaha. You are so funny Cian, but I think you really like the Americans eh, eh? As all Americans are really Irish hahaha. It is the English you really hate, ha?
CM: This is correct.
(Laughter ensues, there is a pause as Johnny Foreigner has a break for a tiny coffee and a self-rolled cigarette)
JF: So Cian we have established that you are worthy of this readership and can instruct us about the ways of St. Patricks Day. But who was this Patrick, and why should we love him and drink the Guinness for him? Tell us about him.
CM: This is a bit tricky as the story is disputed and there are lots of different versions of it. In order not to mess it up, I will tell you the story as I was told it back when I was in school. Basically, Patrick was a boy living on foreign shores. Some say Wales, some say France, all we know was that it was not in Ireland. Anyway, one day, a hoard of Irish pirates sailed into his village, which was on the coast, and stole him away to Ireland. When they got back to Ireland, the pirates sold him as a slave. As a slave he worked as a shepherd, toiling and suffering for years and years. One night, on the hills with his sheep, he has a vision, and God appears to him. God tells him that if he leaves now and goes to a port, he will find a boat that will take him back home. There is a condition, however. In order to escape successfully, he must promise to return to Ireland one day and help convert Ireland to Christianity. At the time, Ireland was Pagan, and any attempts by missionaries to convert the population was a failure. So Patrick says yes and he escapes, travelling back home on the promised boat, and begins learning the ways of Christianity in order to fulfil his promise. Years later, on the same shores where he was kidnapped, God appears to him and tells him it is time to return to Ireland and keep his end of the bargain. He obliges, returns to Ireland, and he does the job, converting the population through his charisma and various miracles.
JF: Hmm. I have never heard of this version, but it does sound vaguely familiar to stories of Saints in my country. But wait, what about the snakes? I thought that Patrick took all the snakes from Ireland?
CM: You know, this part was never really explained to us in school, we were just supposed to accept it as a legend. No fossils of snakes have ever been found in Ireland. Recently someone mentioned to me that ‘the snakes’ are an allegory for the other religions (and their leaders) who were present in Ireland before the dominance of Christianity. These snakes were the ones that Patrick drove out of Ireland. Until I find a better explanation, this is what I believe too.
JF: Ah yes, it is a metaphor, very interesting!
(Johnny Foreigner has a cigarette break, and speaks on the phone to someone who I assume is his girlfriend. They have a heated argument, which ends with him throwing his phone out the window of the fifth story building)
JF: I am so sorry about that, but my mother can be very demanding sometimes.
CM: That’s alright, let’s get back to it.
JF: So, you have explained to us the origin of St. Patrick, but what about St. Patricks DAY? Why do you celebrate this day?
CM: This also is difficult to answer too because as long as I have been alive, St. Patricks Day has been a thing in my life, a constant entity. As I have grown older, I have started to question it of course. The obvious answer is that Patrick is a uniquely Irish figure that separates us culturally from the British, and therefore was promoted heavily during the struggle for independence. It is telling that once the Irish State was founded, St. Patricks Day was designated as the national holiday.
JF: OK, and why March 17th? What does this day have to do with St. Patrick?
CM: It is his birthday, apparently.
JF: A Birthday, of course, this is why we drink so much on this day, eh? It is a celebration! This brings me to my next question, which is about the things Irish people usually do on Pattys, sorry: Paddys Day.
CM: I can only answer this by detailing what we do when we are children against what we do as adults. When I was growing up, the thing our family did was get up early, find shamrocks to…
JF: Excuse me, what is a sham…rock?
CM: It is a green plant that grows throughout Ireland, and has become its symbol. A legend about St. Patrick is that he used the shamrock to explain the coexistence of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit in one God, as the three leaves of the shamrock all make up the one consistent, unified shape.
JF: I am sure we have a different word for this shamrock, but I will look it up on the web later.
CM: Anyway, you go outside, find this shamrock, attach it to your coat with a safety pin, and then you go to a church service, which we call mass. This mass is special, as it is held in the Irish language rather than English. All prayers and songs are translated into Irish, and it was a very special event.
JF: But I thought that the language you spoke there was called Gaelic?
CM: To Irish people, the word Gaelic refers to the Scottish version of that language, but it is a bit confusing. The word in our language for the name of our language is Gaeilge, but in English everyone refers to it as ‘Irish’. Don’t worry about it too much, it isn’t really that important.
(tiny coffee and cigarette break. From the window, he shouts down propositions towards shapes that resemble females)
JF: So after this ‘mass’?
CM: After the mass was special for children, since St. Patricks Day is a magic day in the Irish calendar, as it is in the middle of Lent, but on this day alone one is allowed break whatever you have given up for Lent. If you can’t eat chocolate, you eat chocolate, if you had quit smoking, then you smoke. This is what happens after mass, a big time out for religious commitments. Binging on things that are forbidden. Then a parade, but no one is really interested in that.
JF: So as a child, you find this shamrock, you go to mass, you eat chocolate, the you see a bad parade, yes?
CM: This is correct.
JF: And as an adult?
CM: I can’t really speak for everyone in Ireland here, but for myself there has been a real move away from the religious aspect completely. The best sign of this I can think of is that this interview is the most I have used the phrase ‘St. Patricks Day’ rather than “Paddys Day” in my adult life. As adults, we barely even recognise that he is a saint. I believe this is a way for us to separate religion from the modern purpose of the holiday, which is to drink a lot of alcohol. Maybe it is because I have been out of Ireland for St. Patricks Day for most of my adult life, but I find that nowadays it revolves more and more around going to bars and drinking Guinness rather than anything of any cultural significance.
JF: Ah yes, this is the St. Patricks Day I know, this is the going to Irish Bars in my home city and drinking the green beer!
CM: This green beer is actually one of the things that annoys me the most. Every non-Irish person talks to me about it once Paddys Day is mentioned. Once again, it sounds horrible so I imagine it is an American invention.
JF: Haha I don’t know who invented it but it makes the beer so much fun!
CM: It doesn’t have a lot to do with St. Patrick, though, does it? It really is just an alcoholic beverage with the colour of Ireland in it, by way of cheap food colouring.
JF: Yes, but this is how we think of Ireland! The country that loves the beer! You people are so much fun and drunk all the time.
CM: This is correct. But I don’t think any national holiday of any country has been exported as commercially as ours. Guinness basically sees it as an opportunity to boost sales, and as they control a large percentage of global Irish Bars, it really does just seem like a marketing drive, pushing Guinness on people who normally wouldn’t think of ordering it, just because it is green. Since I have been living outside Ireland, I see it as not much more than Guinness Day.
JF: But Guinness has its own holiday in Ireland, yes? It is called Arthurs Day? It is in September.
CM: Let’s just say that it is no coincidence that Arthurs Day is exactly six months on from Paddys Day.
JF: Haha I don’t really understand that, but I thank you Cian for your answers, and for your time and I hope that you have a very good PaDDy’s Day this Sunday, and also that you don’t drink too much, as I know all you Irish do haha!
JF: Yes, this is why I like you Irish! You are drunks and you know how to have fun hahaha!