stiltwalker dressed in green wearing shamrocks at belfast city hall and big wheel before the parade and carnival on st patricks day belfast northern ireland

Bejaysus and begorrah…

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Well thats it for another year, St Patricks Day has come and gone. The day when every Irishman or woman or child, or dog, or 2nd cousins twice removed pool cleaners brother once bought a pint of guiness wears green and does lots of ‘Irish’ stuff.
it might be just me but everyone else in the world seems to do St Paddys Day a hell of a lot better than we do. I received emails from friends in Argentina who were dressing in green just to salute me, friends in America were having green pints (blargh!) and saying top of the marning te ye a lot.
In chicago they died the river green (love the line in the film ‘The Fugitive’ ‘why cant they dye it blue then every other day of the year?’), New York had marching bands and we get, well we get some 7th place in years X factor and a load of people dressed up in foam suits pretending to be well known tv characters.
Hence the reason I was not working St Paddys Day for the first time in a number of years. Normally I’m down covering the parade in Belfast or another event in the country somewhere followed by the open air concert but recession and all that, I had to say ‘who?’ when the headliner was announced. This isnt a slight on the concert organisers as they have to get somebody but Im sure there are loads of local bands who would give their eye teeth to get on that bill.

Belfast City Centre Parade

Ok thats the whinging over so leaving the leprechauns, ginger beards, pots of gold and green vodka jellies aside what does it mean to me?
Well when we were kids we’d get up in the morning, put on sunday best with something green on it, get our shamrock pinned to our clothes and head up and watch the parade. The parades seemed bigger then, maybe just because I was only 3 foot high. It was an all day thing and not a mention of Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
Young Boy dressed as leprechaun

This year as I was taking a day off, as after all it is (or well used to be) a public holiday here I decided to do something which is ‘Irish’ to me. Feed my face.
I’d decided on an Ulster Fry or to give it its other term an occupied six counties fry (depending on where you come from) which just has your arteries hardening talking about it. Soda bread, potato bread, eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and maybe some black pudding. Putting beans on this is an english invention so will result in excommunication, execution and just not good form at all.
As for boiled ham/beef and cabbage, the only time Ive had this was in America. My hosts decided to cook something ‘Irish’ for me. I know we were poor when we were kids but we werent that poor 😉 Besides which you cant beat a nice plate of champ (potatoes, scallions, butter). Cabbage is just rank!
Ulster Fry

Now traditionally St Partricks Day is in the middle of lent when all good Catholics of the Irish persuasion decide to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days in the desert fasting by giving something up and supposedly donating the money saved to good causes. I know a lot of people who gave things up for Lent but the money saved to good causes seems to be a bit hit and miss. Theres also the non-smokers who give up smoking etc but they arent fooling anyone.
Now Im sure its in canonical law or vatican council 2 or somewhere that God has given all us good folk living in his good green land a day off lent. So if you are off the drink you can drink yourself stupid from midnight to midnight on the 17th March, eat chocolate, puff your brains out or whatever. If its not a strictly written rule its an unwritten rule somewhere, it might even be on one of those stone tablets down at newgrange. Party on!
Belfast City Centre Parade

I went down to the local bakery shop to get some proper bread not that machine fed stuff you get in the supermarkets when I saw a real blast from the past, the Belfast Bap. The Belfast Bap has its own special place in history. It was supposedly invented by Belfast Baker and Philanthropist Barney Hughes. Of course my dad told me the folklore as a kid how Barney Hughes produced bread cheaper than anyone else during times of need for Belfast people, most notably during the Great Famine. Of course as with all stories my dad told it as if he knew Barney himself, which I wasnt really surprised at. A half hour walk into the city would take 2 hours because my dad knew absolutely everyone. The fact that if he did know Barney Hughes personally, Barney would be known for old age rather than a baker as he would be 170 by the time I was 10. When we were in primary school breakfast consisted of part of a belfast bap or large scone, buttered and a glass of milk then kicked out to school. At the time Belfast was covered with bakeriers, Hughes, McErlanes, Peter Pan, Ormo etc etc etc. So going round to the local home bakery to get a bap and next door to the wee shop to get real butter, not that low spread rubbish I was weaned onto by countless well meaning girlfriends isnt a bad way to spend St Patricks Day morning.
Belfast Bap

Locally you have the option of going into town to join the now cross community parade, heading down to Downpatrick to see St Patricks Grave or heading up to Slemish Mountain in county antrim and being rescued by mountain rescue as you attempt to negotiate the pilgrimage slopes 4 months before you really should try to climb the mountain. Croagh Patrick in county mayo has a better idea, they wait until the end of July before carting people off the mountain on stretchers.
St Patricks Grave

Slemish Mountain

Slemish Mountain Rescue

St Patrick was a big lad with a big beard who was kidnapped from wales/england (he wasnt english – trust me)/french/spanish by the romans/gauls/pagans/vikings/irish and brought to dublin/belfast/ballymena and sold as a slave. He definitely tended goats or was it pigs or maybe sheep on slemish mountain and whilst he was there found the shamrock which represented the holy trinity and escaped back home. Im not sure if the shamrock or the pigs or goats helped, history isnt clear on it. He then decided to try and convert all these pagan irish to christianity, something they have become a bit expert on since and have even exported it a lot themselves. Somewhere between this and dying and being buried under a big rock in downpatrick he kicked all the snakes out of Ireland. What the snakes did to him is unsure but he could have got rid of the big spiders and those horseflies as well while he was at it.
Wearing my green combats I decided just to sit on my backside at home and enjoy my bap. One of these days I’ll make it down to Downpatrick to see their parade or even down to Dublin where they are currently flying in bands from the USA for the parade as local ones are probably too busy ‘drowing their shamrock’. I love it the way we have so many different ways of lying about going out and getting drunk.
Belfast City Centre Parade

Ive spent a couple of St Patricks Days away from home, most notably on a skiing holiday in the French Alps where a group of 19 of us were staying in one hotel and I broke out the tin whistle and started playing. It was a bit like the pied piper where it attracted every irish person (or people calling themselves irish) from 10 miles in every direction. The musical interlude wasnt helped by someone sending a taxi for a guy from Dublin who was working in a chalet 6 miles away who could ‘play the guitar a bit.’ Being the masters of understatement this could mean anything from having seen a guitar once to sending a taxi for Jimi Hendrix. It turned out it was more the former and so we played the same 3 songs he knew over and over again all night. Nobody seemed to care and to be honest I gave up trying to put my fingers over the whistle holes after about 4 green vodka jellies….
..maybe next year I will go to New York after all.
More St Patricks Day Images here

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