I lived in Northern Ireland for two years. The first year we were there, my family and I decided to attend our town’s local St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. According to the information in the paper, there was to be a parade, plenty of activities for the kids, and it would be a good time to be had by all. At the end of the parade, much like our local Christmas parades, Saint Patrick would ride down the street on the final float waving greetings to one and all.
Using what we knew of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States, we thought, “why not?” After all, this is post-troubles Ireland, what’s the big deal about Saint Patrick’s Day. In the United States, everyone goes to these celebrations, parades, and parties and no one thinks twice. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Here’s where I need to tell you that I lived in a town that was 95% Roman Catholic. I am a Protestant clergyperson. While on the surface, this shouldn’t be a problem, it was; not with the Roman Catholic community but to the dwindling number of Protestants I served each week. Saint Patrick’s Day was seen as a Roman Catholic holiday. To many in my dying congregation, their Roman Catholic neighbors were viewed as the enemy (i.e. terrorists who opposed a United Kingdom and supported a majority Roman Catholic united Ireland).
To attend Saint Patrick’s Day festivities, no matter how innocuous, child friendly, peace promoting, marching band containing, was to give my implicit support to the agenda of the Irish Republican Army and spit in the face of all the survivors of their terrorist attacks. I simply wanted to take my kids to a parade; something I would have done had I been living in North Carolina. However, I wasn’t living in the United States. I had loss the freedom, as a Christian, to mingle with other Christians without being called a supporter of murderers. My congregation members yelled at me, “you just don’t do this sort of thing, good Christians; do not attend these kinds of events, especially with their families.” I’ve never been so angry or afraid in my life. Protestantism has truly run off the rails in Northern Ireland. I’m not the first person to say this nor will I be the last. You can’t have serious debates about the countering secularization in Northern Ireland when there’ll be no angry people left to argue with in less than a generation.
So go out, drink your green beer, drink some Guinness, and tell stories of Saint Patrick and snakes. Just remember this, when you think you’ve got this Irish/Saint Patrick’s Day thing all figured out: you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. Because after two years of living it day in and day out, it’s still a mystery to me.