In honour of St Patrick’s Day, we got proud Irish woman Grainne Maguire to tell us what it means to her. Contains parade fails and a flirting Christopher Columbus.
There are a lot of upsides to being Irish: our president looks like he grants wishes, Martin Sheen keeps trying to hang out with us and everyone in the country is only one cousin once removed from someone who won the Eurovision.
However, the best thing about owning a heart that beats to the opening chords of C’est La Vie is, of course, St Patrick’s Day.
St Patrick is a great patron saint; the ultimate sassy shepherd with a dream.
He knew that there was more to him than tending sheep in Wales so when he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery to Ireland he didn’t get bitter: he got better.
He converted the entire country to Christianity, banishing snakes as he did so. Great news for world religions, less so for animal welfare.
Ireland owes him so much: if it wasn’t for him Father Ted would be about three pagan high priests trapped on a lonely island, which structurally just wouldn’t have worked as well.
When you’re little, St Patrick’s Day is a big deal. In our house there was always the dilemma of whether to head to Dublin to see the proper big parade there or have another hour in bed and go to a local one instead.
The parade in Dublin was the professional one: marching bands from America, theatre groups on stilts and free stuff thrown from the backs of lorries. I distinctly remember elbowing smaller children out of my way to grab a free can of Fanta with my freezing rain-drenched hands.
The downside to going was the certainty that at least one of my sisters would get lost in the crowd, have a massive fight with our parents and get carsick on the way home.
Luckily, my family were never organised enough to go to the big parade very often so we usually made do with our local parade, which had all the majesty, fun and spectacle of an abandoned car park. Every year my sisters and I would be there in our matching green corduroy trousers and polo necks. Every year we’d end up with our hoods up in the rain, desperately asking our parents if it was time to go home.
“Often the parade was so tedious it turned back into normal traffic long before people had noticed.”
Our town’s St Patrick’s Day parade consisted of local taxis driving around slowly with some teenage boys smirking out the passenger window and a few tractors with balloons attached. Crowds would wait freezing in the bitter March wind and rain; toddlers would slowly turn blue. Finally around the corner would arrive…another tractor with some balloons attached. Occasionally the local brass band would appear with some majorettes whom I hated in a way only a 10-year-old girl can hate another 10-year-old girl getting more attention than her.
Often the parade was so tedious it turned back into normal traffic long before people had noticed, with crowds of onlookers cheering grumpy families trying to escape the post-parade jam. It all ended on the town’s Fair Green where a traditional band played ceilidh music while you awkwardly waved at your friends from primary school and refused your Mam’s encouragement to join in and dance.
St Paddy’s Day gets less fun as you get older: the first teenage refusals to go to the parade turn into the stress of finding your friends in packed pubs. The pressure to be at the right party/the best pub makes it feel like another New Year’s Eve.
Since I moved to London I avoid it completely. It’s uncomfortable to see gangs of drunk men in foam Guinness hats looking like aggressive leprechauns on a stag do. The parades in London just aren’t the same either. I remember the first one I ever went to in Trafalgar Square. Instead of waving crowds it was made up of hundreds of really confused Asian tourists staring in bafflement as a float with sheepish looking women wrapped in tweed shawls, sitting in a replica Irish country kitchen, drove by very very slowly to complete silence. It was the funniest and most surreal thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Don’t mean to brag but full disclosure: I did once appear in Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parade dressed as Christopher Columbus. I had no idea what I was doing and spent the whole time waving and shouting, “I’m off to America” in an accent that sounded like Manuel from Faulty Towers.
Having spotted a guy I went to university with and really fancied, I started attempting to flirt with him, forgetting that I was dressed as a 15th century explorer. He didn’t recognise me (of course) and just looked confused and slightly offended. I then marched down Dublin’s famous O’Connell Street and in front of thousands of people and the official viewing stand, which included our Taoiseach and President, tripped and fell flat on my face.
It was, in many ways, my first taste of the perils of showbiz.
Grainne Maguire is organising the We Love Immigration benefit on Monday 30 March at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London. Click here for more details.849 Views
Gráinne Maguire is a comedian, comedy writer, lover and a fighter. Loves the Labour Party and Cheryl Cole in equal measures.