Paddy's Day - Brisbane Stylee!

Top of the morning to ye!
Fiddle-de-dee potatoes! As the Aussies are very quick to say to me whenever they hear my accent for the first time, the reasons for which are still completely unknown to me...

It's been over a month now, but St. Patrick's Day has been and gone for another year. This year it fell on the Monday which must have been brilliant for the Irish pubs around the world, as they ripped the arse out of it for the whole weekend as people from all walks of life celebrated all things Irish in the time-honoured tradition of getting plastered.

I can't help but feel that as a race, we Irish should be insulted by this stereotyping of our people but sure, as long as the drinks flow freely, there's (to be) sure to be few complaints...

Brisbane actually has a St. Patrick's Day parade which I might have mentioned to you last year in this very corner of cyberspace and the city decided to hold it on the Saturday before the Big Day itself. Unfortunately, we were kind of locked in to a friends wedding that day, so I had to make do (on the Saturday at least) with a couple of hours and few (4) rushed pints of Guinness with a German, whilst Krissy was getting her hair done.

As you do.

(The drinking with the German, not Krissy getting her hair done.)

At least I drank enough Guinness to get the VERY silly hat though...

Anyway, I thought I would share an article with you that I actually got published in some of the papers Down Under. My career as a fully paid-up writer is still but a distant dream, but at least this was a step in the right direction! Slá

(and yes - it is a bit of a kop-out. I'm hoping that I'll have some new material in the very near future!)


Top of the Morning to ye Reader!

As the dust settles on the recent Australia Day celebrations and the Big Day Out festivals draw to a close, the Irish – who themselves need no excuse to have a good party - prepare for their own Big Day Out, St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th

Jonny Black, an Irish ex-pat, separates the facts from fiction about this great man and explains what it is like to be so far away from his homeland on this most important of occasions for the Irish.

The story of Patrick the man, is typically Irish in that it is a mixture of fact and myth, for as great storytellers, the Irish have never been ones to let the truth get in the way of a good story – and what greater story is there than that of Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland?


Born in 387AD, it may come as a surprise to some to discover that he was not even Irish but, in fact, depending on which account of his life story you read, England, Wales, Scotland or even France, can all lay a claim to be his birth land.

Kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16 and sold as a slave in Ireland, he worked as a shepherd tending to flocks on the exposed, rugged slopes of Mount Slemish, County Antrim, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Indeed, Mount Slemish is a mere 20-minute drive from Ballyclare where I grew up and the climbing of it was something that we often did during the summer as kids, oblivious to the historic importance of where we were treading.

The six years spent in captivity working on and around Mount Slemish, a dark and brooding place, with terrible weather the norm, seems to have had an enormous affect on the young Patrick and where, with much time on his hands to ponder life and its meaning, his thoughts turned to religion.

According to his own account, one night as he lay sleeping, he heard a voice that told him “You do well to fast: soon you will depart to your home country” and then a little later “Behold, your ship is ready.”

Having safely escaped, Patrick's experiences in Ireland made him driven by the idea of converting the Irish to Christianity and after studying religion in France, he announced that he wanted to return to Ireland as a missionary. His religious superiors, reluctant to acquiesce because of what they perceived as his inadequate education, eventually granted him permission after the first Irish missionary bishop, died in 431AD.

Because no one had ever preached Christianity there before, when St Patrick returned to Ireland in 432AD, he meant to sail up the coast to county Antrim where, for six years as a young slave, he had tended those flocks. However, strong currents forced him on shore in Strangford Lough 50 miles south of his destination.

Nothing daunted by this change of plan, Patrick set about his missionary business, starting with Dichu, the local chieftain. Dichu was quickly converted and gave him a barn (‘sabhal’ pronounced 'saul' in Gaelic) for holding services.

Over the next 30 years, he gained the trust and friendship of several tribal leaders and soon made many converts. Patrick founded more than 300 churches, mostly in the North and West of Ireland and baptized more than 120,000 people. He brought in clergymen for his new churches from England and France. Patrick preached in Ireland the rest of his life and was chiefly responsible for converting the Irish people to Christianity and became known as the Apostle to the Irish.


One of the best-known tales tells how he charmed the snakes of Ireland, supposedly from the top of Mount Slemish into the sea, where they subsequently drowned. As there are no snakes in Ireland today, one can only surmise that he did a pretty damn good job of it. Perhaps he could have got himself some contract work Down Under? Provided he met the necessary visa requirements, of course.

According to another legend, inspired by an abundance of them growing on the slopes of Mount Slemish, Patrick used a three-leaf shamrock to illustrate the idea of the Trinity, with each leaf representing The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit all joined as one.

Many people believe the shamrock came to be the traditional symbol of Ireland because of this legend. Throughout the world today, the Irish and many of those who are not of Irish descent (“Plastic Paddys” as we Irish affectionately refer to them), celebrate Saint Patrick's Day on his feast day, the day that he died and was accepted into heaven, March 17, 461AD.


Celebrations are generally themed around all things green and Irish; both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of the holiday by wearing green (even though one little known fact is that it was once blue that was the colour of this day), eating Irish food, and attending parades and of course, the consumption of Irish drinks. Lots of Irish drinks.

In Dublin, the St. Patrick's Day parade is part of a five-day festival but rather surprisingly, it was first held in Dublin only as recently as 1996. Over 500,000 people attended the 2006 parade which is nothing compared to the St. Patrick's Day parade held in New York City where an astonishing 2 million spectators watch it.

As well as being a celebration of Irish culture, Saint Patrick's Day is a Christian festival celebrated in the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland (among other churches in the Anglican Communion) and some other denominations. It is because of this reason that up until the 1970’s, pubs were forced to close on March 17 - itself a fine example of the paradox of the Irish.

Another irony is that the day always falls during the fasting season of Lent. Thankfully, for those subjecting themselves to this period of abstinence, tradition dictates that it is ok to break it for the duration of Saint Patrick's Day whenever it falls on a Friday.

However, in my experience, whether it falls on a Friday or not, many people conveniently let their vows of abstinence slide for the duration of St. Patrick’s Day. Probably just as well, considering that the time-honoured tradition of celebrating ones “Irishness”, seems to involve imbibing copious amounts of alcohol, a tradition that I will undoubtedly be indulging in myself, cometh the moment.

Of course these days, the huge Diaspora of Irish immigrants around the world (an estimated 70 million people worldwide can claim Irish heritage), coupled with the advent of the ubiquitous Irish Pub, ensures that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in all four corners of the globe. I even read recently that the first Irish pub has opened in Afghanistan, so one can only imagine how the big day will be spent over there.

Having spent the last 12 St. Patrick’s Days in different countries, I now wonder what I can expect from this, my first Down Under?

Just a few short, enjoyable months into my Great Australian Adventure, the historical ties between Australia and Ireland are evident almost everywhere I go, from family names, street names to the names of businesses, so I am certain that there will be many people joining in the party with me.

The fact that it falls on a Saturday this year, will certainly swell the numbers, some of whom, I have no doubt will be bringing out long dead ancestry ties to the Emerald Isle as they sip on their pints of the Black Stuff.

I read with some interest that the Irish Premier spent a recent St. Patrick’s Day in Sydney. What a nice little jolly that must have been - leaving the Irish winter for the Australian summer to “Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal” - according to the manifesto of a group known as the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, which was formed in the mid 1990’s.

For my part, as an unofficial and self-appointed ambassador of Ireland on this most important of occasions, I shall be joining the party down in Brisbane, where I have been reliably informed that there will be plenty going on, with the party culminating in Dooley’s Hotel.

Therefore, with my first St. Patrick’s Day to be spent in Australia, just around the corner, I will leave you with this one, last thought.

The tiny island of Montserrat, known as "Emerald Island of the Caribbean" due to its foundation by Irish refugees from Saint Kitts and Nevis, is the only place in the world apart from the Republic of Ireland and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador in which St Patrick's Day is a public holiday.

In Montserrat, the St. Patrick’s Day festival is a weeklong event, culminating in the day itself, so perhaps that is an idea for next year. In the name of research of course.