As I sit at my desk, sipping my ridiculously sugared coffee and perusing the morning papers (12.15 is still morning on a Sunday!), I’ve come across an interesting little piece from Pat Fitzpatrick in the Indo (or perhaps it’s the Endo, judging by their front page complimentary handjob for the potential taoiseach/hide and seek champion from Mayo).
It’s a short, witty little dig at Fianna Fail, calling on the now almost (hopefully) defunct party to just go nuts in its manifesto and promise us holiday homes on the moon, or whatever. Tickled my funny bone anyway, that is until I got to the actual (single) fact that Fitzpatrick had based the piece around. On page 21 of Fianna Fail’s manifesto, in the tourism section, lies a proposal to make St. Patrick’s Festival Week into St. Patrick’s Festival Fortnight. God Help us all.
Putting aside the fact that this is obviously cheap political bullshit, thrown in because, “Why the Hell not? The party mightn’t exist in a month’s time!” Let’s look at the actual implications of such a proposal. In 1903 St. Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland, thanks to one MP James O’Mara. Ironically, MP O’Mara later managed to introduce legislation that closed pubs on March 17th, after people began ruining his shiny new public holiday by getting thoroughly blotto.
What’s that you say? Pubs closed by law on St. Patrick’s Day? I can already here some of you laughing derisively “That didn’t last very long. Hur-Hur!” Actually, it lasted about 60years; O’Mara’s legislation was only repealed in the 1970s. I wonder who was big in politics in 70’s Ireland? (cough-Haughey-cough). Certainly, if we consider that Fianna Fail spent the middle years of the 70s in Opposition (1973-77), no doubt trying desperately to claw their way back into the driving seat (as they are wont to do: “Free Fees, Free Medical Cards, Free Everything!”), it would be no stretch of the imagination that such a meaningless, populist political stunt could be part of one of their election manifestos. Just like we have something similar now.
In the 1990s, its was decided that St.Patrick’s Day was too damned popular internationally (and too damned profitable in terms of tourism) to be limited to just one day. So the Government (which was the Rainbow Coalition at the time) decided to add an extra day to the 1996 St.Patrick’s Day celebration. Their excuse was that by extending and improving our premier national celebration, we could:
— Offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world and promote excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity.
— Provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent, (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations.
— Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal, as we approach the new millennium.
Sounds so innocent and well-meaning, doesn’t it? Bless their cotton socks; they had no idea the can of worms they were opening. In 1997, the Boys were back in Town, led by B-b-b-Bertie, our former Finance Minister without a bank account. The Festival got another day, because Fianna Fail couldn't allow themselves to be outdone by that bunch of stuff-shirts in the Coalition. Not this Fianna Fail Government anyway. Not with its happy-go-lucky, man-of-the-people Taoiseach, oh no!
By 2000, the Festival was 4 days long. By 2006 (Celtic Tiger roaring baby, Whooah!), the Festival peaked at 5 Days. Now Fianna Fail, in what is clearly an attempt to scrape up some popularity with the average punter, are suggesting we make it a fortnight. Shine on you crazy diamonds!
But seriously, have I gone all Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, or am I seeing a pattern forming here? The 1970s, Fianna Fail out of Government for the middle years of the decade, pubs reopened on St. Patrick’s Day. The 1990s, Fianna Fail out of Government for the middle years of the decade, St. Patrick’s Day becomes a festival, and begins to grow. Now the nation is staring down the barrel of the twenty-teens (for want of a better work to describe them), with the middle years of this decade almost certainly seeing Fianna Fail out of Government. And part of their re-election manifesto is to make the St. Patrick’s Festival even longer? Déjà vu anyone?Now don’t get me wrong, while I’m not exactly a rabid patriot, I do enjoy St. Patrick’s Day, and I do get somewhat inebriated. But that’s on the day. While I recognise that the St. Patrick’s Festival is a gimmick to attract tourists, I worry a little bit about how, in these economically depressed times, society will cope with a week-long festival that for the vast majority of people (that is, non-tourists) is solely an excuse to binge drink for the weekend, and recover for the rest of the week. How will another week affect this? Not positively, I wager.