By Lydia O’Kane
Down through the years, St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been known for their exuberant parades, parties, music and dance. However, for the second year running, the Irish both at home and abroad are marking the national holiday on virtual platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is even a St Patrick’s Festival TV channel dedicated to showcasing Irish theatre, art, performance, poetry, storytelling, traditional arts, virtual tours, and food.
Ireland has been in lockdown for the last number of months, so being able to celebrate its Patron Saint is a welcome respite from hours of home schooling and remote working, which have become the norm up and down the country.
Rediscovering St Patrick
In his St Patrick’s Day message, the Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin alludes to the “many customs, myths and paraphernalia" that have grown up around Saint Patrick and the celebration of his feast day at home and around the world. But he also points out that “perhaps, paradoxically, the restrictions this year are opening up an opportunity for us to focus a little more on Saint Patrick himself, and even rescue the real Saint Patrick from the legends and distractions surrounding him.”
He notes that if you want to find the true story of Patrick, then it’s best to delve into his own words, which are preserved in two ancient writings – Saint Patrick’s Confession, and Saint Patrick’s Letter to Coroticus.
It is here, he says, that we can discover “the testimony of a real person who dedicated his life and energies to spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Martin underlines that “even though he accepted his sinfulness, his lack of proper education and preparation for the mission, Saint Patrick never doubted that God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - was with him, shielding him from danger and falsehood, and ultimately guiding him, every step of the way.”
The Archbishop also emphasizes that as the country grapples with a pandemic which has claimed thousands of lives and threatened jobs or livelihoods, the people of Ireland would do well to remember Saint Patrick for the courage and resilience needed “to face with confidence new possibilities for today and tomorrow on this island.”
A global celebration
In a recent article about this beloved feast day, the headline read: “Official: St Patrick’s Day in Ireland cancelled.” It was of course referring to the curtailing of celebrations due to the pandemic, but the headline struck a chord. Surely, it would be impossible to cancel St Patrick’s Day?
Asked about the improbability of cancelling this national holiday altogether, the Irish Ambassador to the Holy See, Derek Hannon said it really would be impossible due to its global appeal.
“I think it’s fantastic that we’ve managed to export [the day]. I don’t think any other country has a national day that is really celebrated as a global holiday as St Patrick’s Day is. So, even if we were to be able to cancel St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, which of course is ridiculous, and we never would, it would still continue around the world.”
The National Day amid the pandemic
Acknowledging the difficulties faced by so many people both at home and abroad amid the pandemic, Ambassador Hannon said there are a number of online events taking place for the Irish diaspora living in Italy including a talk, detailing the contribution of the Irish in Rome over the centuries. This year, the Irish Embassy to the Holy See is also highlighting the missionary aspect of Ireland which the Ambassador noted, takes in the diaspora which is a key focus on St Patrick’s Day, “but also highlights that St Patrick came back to Ireland as a missionary.”
For many Irish people living and working both in Italy and in the Vatican, travelling home to Ireland won’t be an option this St Patrick’s Day as COVID-19 restrictions remain place.
“As Pope Francis has said ‘we’re all in this together’ and certainly at a time like this, it underlines that reality.” said the Ambassador. “So many people have been separated for so long from their loved ones” but he also pointed out that “we have an obligation and a duty to put others ahead of our own legitimate interests; to think of the importance of society rather than our own needs.” Ambassador Hannon added that this is exactly what St Patrick did when, despite having escaped, he came back to Ireland, putting the needs of the Irish people before his own.
The theme of this year’s St Patrick’s Festival, which runs from the 12 to 17, of March is “Awaken Ireland” which connects the Irish diaspora around the world and features artists, musicians, performers, and community organisations across Ireland.
Although virtual events can’t replace “human flesh and blood contact,” stressed Ambassador Hannon, “the ability to communicate virtually does offer great possibilities” and enables people who maybe wouldn’t be able to travel back to Ireland or due to age or infirmity, the possibility to connect with loved ones through modern technology.
As the people of Ireland celebrate their national holiday on Wednesday, they are also being asked to spare a thought for frontline workers who will be on call this St Patrick’s Day.
Speaking about these heroes of the pandemic, Ambassador Hannon said, “We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and again this is something Pope Francis has pointed out… We wish them a very Happy St Patrick’s Day and use the opportunity to thank them for the enormous contribution they’ve made and will continue to make for the coming months.”