Here’s why St Patrick’s day and ‘the craic’ are two of Ireland’s greatest myths

The Conversation

Paddy Hoey, Edge Hill University and David Shaw, University of Liverpool

There are two world famous symbols of Irish culture: St Patrick’s day, and the Irish pub – both synonymous with drinking and “good craic”. But history tells us that these icons of Irish identity were first conceived far away from Ireland. Since then, these phenomena have become a tangle of mythology, religion and politics; inseparable from – but hardly authentic to – the modern nation.

In fact, the first celebration of St Patrick – patron saint of Ireland – was organised in Boston by members of the Charitable Irish Society, in 1737. The original society rules made the organisation exclusively Protestant, and other early celebrations were also organised by Protestant officers in the British Army.

St Patrick’s day really increased in profile during the era of mass emigrations which began in the 19th century. It gradually became a celebration of what it means to be Irish in North America.

Chicago goes all out for St Paddy’s day … by dyeing its river green.
Asten/Flickr, CC BY-NC

As the number of Catholics moving to North America increased after the Great Hunger, St Patrick’s day celebrations also became a demonstration of the increasing social and political power of Catholic Irish Americans. The celebrations were as varied as the emigrants themselves: middle-class dinner societies existed cheek-by-jowl with drunken, riotous street celebrations.

Wearing the green

At the start of the 20th century, the “wearing of the green” had spread as far as New Zealand, and the celebration was considered necessary to maintain good spirits among the colonists. By contrast, St Patrick’s day in Ireland was a relatively sober affair until quite recently. It was not until 1903 that it became an official holiday, and for decades it was a day of holy observance and reflection. Dublin didn’t have its first parade until 1931, and pubs were closed on St Patrick’s day until the 1970s.

But St Patrick’s day hasn’t always brought people together. In fact, it has long concealed many of the divisions within the Irish diaspora. People who did not conform to religiously conservative Irish American society were ignored or excluded. For instance, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation was barred from marching in official St Patrick’s day parades in New York until this year.

What’s more, in Britain, sporadic outbreaks of violence during “the Troubles” – a bloody, 30-year ethno-nationalist conflict – made St Patrick’s day a topic of contention from the late 1960s onward. It wasn’t until the 1980s that St Patrick’s day became visible in the UK once more, and in 2002 London launched its annual festival in Trafalgar Square.

This process has marked the re-acceptance of Irish culture both in Britain and abroad – partly due to the success of Riverdance, boy bands such as Boyzone and Jedward and the twin absurdities of Father Ted and Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Scholars have noted that, instead of holding up a mirror to the Irish, St Patrick’s day depicts them as they wished to be seen – congenial, convivial, public spirited and united. Multi-national corporations picked up on this, and saw an opportunity to capitalise on “Brand Ireland”. Their weapon of choice? The Irish-themed pub.

Commercial craic

Rather than recreating the traditional Dublin alehouses so vividly captured by James Joyce in Ulysses, Irish-themed pubs were conceived to “commodify the craic”, and packed with affectations borrowed from Irish America’s fevered perception of the “old country”. The upside down bikes, signposts to obscure towns and pictures of gap-toothed alcoholics and red-haired colleens you’ll see in “O’Malley’s” and “Flanagan’s” are about as Irish as Tom Cruise in Far and Away.

In particular, Guinness saw the development of the Irish-themed pub on the global stage as a means of greatly increasing consumption of its products which – after the 1997 merger that created the parent company, Diageo – also included Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker scotch whisky. Not exactly “authentic” Irish fare.

Bells and whistles.
Un ragazzo chiamato Bi/Flickr, CC BY-SA

In the 1990s, the Irish-themed pub became a presence on British high streets and city centres. Pub chains were suffering from falling numbers of drinkers, who were alienated by the cavernous cathedrals to the video juke box, live sport and insipid lager. Guinness and others introduced reproductions of Irish pubs, hoping to bring a distinctive ethnic experience to stagnant high streets.

Today, most Irish pubs have little to do with Irish culture, and compete with traditional bars in more than 53 countries around the world. By seeking to sell the same “authentic” cultural experience all around the world, Irish pubs achieve just the opposite.

Despite this humbuggery, denizens of Irish pubs will still seek out “the craic” on March 17, in celebration of a Welsh man known for chasing snakes out of a country which never had any in the first place. The Irish are famous for their myth-making, and the legends behind St Patrick’s day and the Irish pub are some of the best yet. Sláinte!

Paddy Hoey, Lecturer in Media, Edge Hill University and David Shaw, PhD Candidate, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bookies sort political favourites from rank outsiders

Political betting is one way of forecasting how this election might go.

Working on the premise that bookies rarely lose money and always do their homework, the odds they are offering might give an overall picture of what the country will look like electorally on May 8.

There has been a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of the leaders of the two main parties. Despite being trusted more by voters, Prime Minister, David Cameron is neck and neck with Labour leader Ed Milliband, to be the PM, with both being offered at 10/11 on.

Just as the opinion polls see the Tories (6/1) with a small lead on Labour (16/1) with the smaller parties likely to hold the balance of power, no overall majority is a very short odds on prospect at 1/6.

But it is in some of the key marginals where the betting could help shed a light.

Thurrock, once a fight between Tories and Labour, taken by only 92 votes by the Conservatives in 2010, looks likely to be taken by UKIP if William Hill’s odds are to be believed. Despite Labour having Milliband’s key aide Polly Billington as candidate, Hill sees UKIP’s Tim Aker as the odds on favourite (8/13) to take the Essex seat.

Hampstead and Kilburn was the number two most marginal seat at the 2010 election, when Labour took it by 42 votes. The bookies are reflecting recent polling data by Lord Ashcroft that saw Labour up by 17pts and Tulip Siddiq, the candidate chosen to replace the outgoing Glenda Jackson, is 1/4 to win.

In Warwickshire North, the third most marginal seat in 2010, taken by the Tories by 54 votes, UKIP’s damaging effect could have most impact. The 0.1% Tory majority has now been transformed to a Labour lead of more than 10 percentage points and the party is very short odds at 2/7. UKIP has stolen a large number of votes from both the Tories and Lib Dems.

In another key marginal, boundary changes mean Labour is likely to take Lancaster and Fleetwood and William Hill offers 2/7.

Labour is short priced to win key target seats in the North West. Government minister and former TV presenter Esther McVey looks likely to lose Wirral West in a close race. Labour are 8/11 on, with McVey even money. Ashcroft polling in March saw Labour with a seven point lead.

Closer to home there’s no money to be made. Labour is short priced in the majority of local constituencies. In West Lancashire Labour is 1/66 for the win, cruising in nearby Sefton Central at 1/50 and in staunchly red Knowsley, it is an even greater 1/100. The Tories are odds on to take South Ribble at 4/11.

The interesting constituency at one stage was Southport, where the Lib Dems faced a threat from both the Tories and Labour. However, sitting MP John Pugh is 13pts up in polling and is now 1/3 to take the seaside seat.

General Election 2015 is a great indictment of the Northern Ireland Peace Process

It had been hoped that the religious and political binary fault line between Catholic/ Nationalist/ Irish and Protestant/ Unionist/ British was something that 20 years of the Peace Process would begin to erode.

This election will suggest quite the reverse: ‘real’ politics, based on political, ideological issues rather than simple religious affiliation may be some way off.

So, despite a devolved Assembly which enshrines representation of all political identities, and billions of pounds in Peace Process money financing multiple cross community initiatives to build a post conflict society, this election sees Northern Ireland as divided as it ever was.

The recent Protestant/ Unionist electoral pact between the Democratic Unionist Party and Ulster Unionist Party, illustrated the narrow identity lines down which Northern Ireland’s communities remain split. Protestants will vote for their own – especially against Sinn Féin. In at least 10 constituencies the Unionist vote will prevail for this reason.

Sinn Féin on the other hand will continue it remarkable rise from the political wing of the Provisional IRA to the largest mainstream party in Catholic Nationalist community.

It has achieved this largely down to how it has transformed itself to encapsulate its role as the key defender of Catholic Nationalist identity politics.

The Catholic middle class has come to see Sinn Féin as the natural defender of Catholic Nationalist rights against the neo-Conservative Christian Protestant assault of the DUP.

But, as traditional Irish republicans Sinn Féin does not recognize the British state and its MPs will not swear allegiance to the Queen, therefore it will not take the five seats it is likely to win.

The other significant Catholic nationalist party, Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), born out of the Catholic civil rights movement of the late 1960s, was the largest Nationalist party until 2001. Since then Sinn Féin has largely usurped it in all but three Westminster constituencies.

There has been no electoral pact in Nationalist Catholic politics and the SDLP might see its influence decline further this time round.

Therefore, with the exception of the hugely affluent North Down constituency, Northern Ireland’s millionaire Gold Coast, which has the independent unionist Lady Sylvia Hermon as MP, Northern Ireland’s 2015 election should just divide down largely religious lines.

As a barometer of the Peace Process’s brief to reform the polarized nature of Northern Irish society, General Election 2015 could be its most damning indictment.

Journalist Damian Wilson got to the heart of the religious polarization of the state and the effects of the Unionist electoral pact.

Instead of holding an actual election, he noted on Twitter, we should just award the constituency to the religious group with the largest numbers:

“Wish Sinn Féin and SDLP would get on with their pact so we can forget about elections and just count names on church registers.”

Plus ça change.

How Northern Ireland’s parties could hold the balance of power

Northern Ireland might be a small place that has receded from the public imagination since the end of the Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, but it might just be propelled back into the political spotlight.

It remains religiously and politically divided along sectarian fault lines, but the 18 MPs that it returns to Westminster might just hold the key to forming the next government in the event of a hung parliament. Its pro-British Unionist parties, the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has links to the neo-Conservative Christian right and the Ulster Unionist Party, are traditional Tories in Westminster.

In recent months there have been two major developments.
Firstly, to combat the threat of Sinn Féin, the former political wing of the Provisional IRA which has made the dramatic move from the political margins to leading Nationalist party, the Unionist parties have agreed an electoral pact to only run one pro-unionist candidate in four constituencies.

Secondly, this pact means that the DUP, assured of keeping at least seven of its current eight MPs, while also winning back its leader Peter Robinson’s East Belfast seat, is in a position to demand financial reward for supporting whichever government is formed after May 7.

The Independent noted that Ian Paisley Jnr, son of the former radical Protestant DUP leader, said the party, “will seek up to a billion pounds more funding for Northern Ireland as the price of keeping a Tory or Labour government in power.”

With the former three party domination of Westminster likely to be smashed at this general election, thanks to the remarkable Post-Indy Ref advance of the Scottish Nationalists north of the border and the projected growth in UKIP in England, the smaller parties are central to forming the next government.

Northern Ireland shows there is always going to be a price to pay for that support.