St Patrick’s Day and our Irish Diaspora

Growing up I often marvelled at how St Patrick’s Day was celebrated so enthusiastically in other countries as our TV screen showed us all the parades from the USA, Australia and other far flung places.  I recall being envious of the better weather that March 17 seemed to get outside of Ireland!   In recent years our national day has become a landmark day for so many people and it is wonderful to see this connection across the globe and it makes one proud of our identity.

Identity is something that has become part of our story here on our land as we consider the past as we look to the future and consider the key issues facing business, tourism and people as we respond to climate and biodiversity issues.  In recent months I have found my self being drawn to a particular field which we call ‘The Fort Field’.  This field, usually used to grow cereals, has an area left undisturbed for generations and we always referred to it as ‘The Ring Fort’.  Irish farms and the landscape has (or had) thousands of these and they date back to Celtic times and are the remnants of cattle enclosures or settlements where people lived.  Stories, myths and sacred spaces often developed around these places and this has often helped retain them as features.  

Growing up here, we were told that people were buried in this Ring Fort during the famine. The stories told us that these were probably people who were homeless, vagrant and ‘wandering the roads’ and passed away from hunger and disease.  There was also mention of unbaptised babies being buried here.  This is common with regard to Ring Forts and I know of others where similar stories are told.  

This connection with the past and the DNA of ancestors that has become part of the soil that now nourishes us can be both uplifting and unsettling at the same time.  It stirs memories of how in the past we dealt with uncomfortable issues, poverty and being ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’.  It also serves to explain part of the reason why the Irish have such a wide ranging diaspora who hold a sense of Irishness at their core.  Leaving ones homeland, by choice or necessity, is part of the Irish narrative.  

As we connect across the globe on this day let us not forget those who perhaps had hopes for a brighter future here or somewhere else. They may have not have been able to make the journey but their spirit and DNA is still with us and this may be sustaining us now.  Let us all consider too, those who are experiencing loss, war, famine and upheaval in their homelands now and see Irish shores in the same light as previous generations looked on the shores of America, England or the scores of countries that are sporting the shamrock today.


Ring fort