IN A FESTIVE MOOD

by Jane Keating; photography by BTA

Probably the most stereotyped holiday in the world gets new meanings

st patrick's day.jpg

On Saint Patrick's Day everyone wants to be Irish, or so they say. All over the world, from Sydney to San Francisco, people will put on something green and take to the streets to cheer colourful and goodhumoured parades. However improbable, for over a decade such events have been annual fixtures in Moscow and Tokyo.

Perhaps it's not so surprising. Ireland's much loved patron saint was not even Irish but was born in Roman Britain or perhaps Gaul, sometime in the second half of the fifth century. The Irish themselves have successfully surfed the tides of globalisation for at least 150 years. Why confine the festivities to the 70 million people around the world who claim Irish descent? Why not have a global party that everyone can enjoy?

There are many entertaining legends about Patrick's efforts to convert the Irish to Christianity, among them, that he banished the snakes from Ireland. A good story but sadly not true as it was actually the last Ice Age that got rid of them.

In Ireland Saint Patrick's Day was traditionally a day of religious observance. People would wear untidy bunches of shamrock on their lapels and this we still do with great pride. This little green plant with three leaves on a single stem was used by Patrick to explain to the Irish the concept of the Trinity. As the feast day falls within Lent, this allowed people to break their fast, eat meat and have a drink (or two).

Irish emigrants in the United States could not recreate their traditional dish of boiled bacon and cabbage and so substituted cheap and available corned beef. Corned beef and cabbage is now the most emblematic dish of Irish America and it is assumed that in Ireland we eat it regularly. On Saint Patrick's Day they even drink green beer. Their Irish cousins regard this with more shock than awe.

It is in America, with its greatness of spirit and imagination, that the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day really developed. Right from the start, Irish emigrants and exiles celebrated with nostalgia a homeland that few ever expected to see again. The parade in Boston dates back to 1737 and New York's to 1756. By contrast, until recently, parades in Ireland were relatively simple affairs, inevitably marked by that rapid and kaleidoscopic succession of seasons characteristic of the Irish climate and often involving such interesting natural phenomena as horizontal rain, diagonal sleet and bouncing hailstones.

We cannot do much about the weather but we do know how to throw a party. Over ten years ago we decided we would have the best Saint Patrick's Day celebrations of them all. We discarded the word "Day" from the title and we instituted the Saint Patrick's Festival in Dublin which lasts for the nearly a week (For more information, see www.stpatricksday.ie).

Saint Patrick has even made it to Bulgaria. If you visit Muglizh near Stara Zagora you can see in the church of St Nikolay Chudotvorets a fresco of Saint Patrick with Saints Cyril and Methodius. This was commissioned by the extraordinary Pierce O'Mahony, who came to Bulgaria just over a hundred years ago to help orphans of the Ilinden uprising.

To celebrate Saint Patrick's Day in Sofia, there is an annual charity event organised by members of the city's small but generally perfect Irish community. This year the party will take place on Friday, 16 March, and the proceeds of the evening will go to the premature baby unit of a hospital in Sofia. Everyone is welcome, provided you're prepared to enjoy yourself (for further information telephone 985 3425).

I think Pierce O'Mahony would be pleased.

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

LES FRANÇAIS EN BULGARIE
Before English took over in Bulgaria, in the 1990s, mastering French was obligatory for the local elite and those who aspired to join it.

BULGARIA'S NEW 'PATRIOTISM'
In the summer of 2023, one of the news items that preoccupied Bulgarians for weeks on end was a... banner.

WHAT WAS THE SEPTEMBER UPRISING?
Raised hands, bodies frozen in a pathos of tragic defiance: Bulgaria, especially its northwest, is littered with monuments to an event that was once glorified but is now mostly forgotten.

WHO WAS RENÉ CHARRON?
Not all people who make a big difference in history, or attempt to make one, are ahead of great governments or armies.

REARVIEW MIRROR OF BULGARIA AND AMERICA
When John Jackson became the first US diplomat in Bulgaria, in 1903, the two nations had known each other for about a century.

200 VAGABONDS
When the first issue of Vagabond hit the newsstands, in September 2006, the world and Bulgaria were so different that today it seems as though they were in another geological era.

LAPSE OF TIME
Sofia, with its numerous parks, is not short of monuments and statues referring to the country's rich history. In the Borisova Garden park for example, busts of freedom fighters, politicians and artists practically line up the alleys.

WHY DOES 'SORRY' SEEM TO BE THE HARDEST WORD?
About 30 Bulgarians of various occupations, political opinion and public standing went to the city of Kavala in northern Greece, in March, to take part in a simple yet moving ceremony to mark the demolition of the Jewish community of northern Greece, which

BULGARIA'S LAST MONARCH
On 3 October 1918, Bulgarians felt anxious. The country had just emerged from three wars it had fought for "national unification" – meaning, in plain language, incorporating Macedonia and Aegean Thrace into the Bulgarian kingdom.

WHO WAS ALEKO KONSTANTINOV?
In Vagabond we sometimes write about people whose activities or inactivity have shaped Bulgaria's past and present. Most of these are politicians or revolutionaries.

RUSSIA BRINGS ON... VANGA
The future does not look bright according to Vanga, the notorious blind clairvoyant who died in 1996 but is still being a darling of tabloids internationally, especially in Russia.

FINDING ANTIP KOEV OBUSHTAROV
In early 2021 veteran Kazanlak-based photographer Alexander Ivanov went to the Shipka community culture house called Svetlina, founded in 1861, to inspect "some negatives" that had been gathering the dust in cardboard boxes.