Saturday, 15 February 2014

Why the parade? (St Patrick's day parade)

So we are coming up to 4 weeks before the St Patrick's parade in Medway, and I have started to think more closely about why I am doing this. What exactly, do I hope to achieve? A part of this is finding and celebrating an Irish identity beyond the stereotype. There are smart Irish people (Louis Brennan), no we are not all drunks, there is a beautiful and ancient language and a culture to celebrate too. 

Image credit: J Durham

It has dominated my life outside of work for the last year, and I have lost count of the other activities that have by necessity had to be dropped or let slide. For next month or so, there will be nothing else.

Don't get me wrong, this has been an excellent opportunity to learn, to grow and to develop. The friends I have made along the way, the way that my relationships with my friends has shifted and changed has all been a part of it. When the parade happens, it will be an additional pleasure, and a tactile demonstration of the goodwill and raised awareness we are hoping to achieve. Both for the Irish community in Medway and for the St Mary's social club.

So what is it that we want to do? Firstly, to raise awareness about the Irish community in Medway. There has been no definitive history written about them, but they have been active in working in the area notably in construction and at the hospital. There are about 1% Irish born in the local area, but estimates for those of Irish descent leap up to 10%. Quite a big demographic, don't you think? The St Mary's social club was formed back in 1973, but still many people don't know about it. Part of what we are doing is to raise awareness about forgotten Irish people of note, including the genius Louis Brennan. My personal interest in him goes beyond his Irish identity, as he is from the same county my family are from.

The second of course is to have a good time! Of all the festivals and parades I've attended, the one that many people seem to enjoy the most is the St Patrick's day parade. It's an inclusive and friendly occasion. Unfortunately, in recent years there are a number of places where the connection to some breweries has taken over the event. I like a pint as much as the next person, but why is it that the likes of Guinness (and other breweries and companies) have been able to colonise the day? Is is because of their sponsorship, or because it ties into ideas about what it means, what other people think it means, to be Irish? How much has the stereotype of the drunken Irish played into that?

And while we're asking questions, I ask myself these while I am inviting groups to take part in our parade. By including some groups and not others, what does it say about being Irish in Medway and the Irish identity? What does it mean to be Irish, second generation Irish in England? Am I celebrating an Irish identity, or creating it? Does it have to be a choice, can't identity be shaped and change over time as well?