Thursday, March 17, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Cork Day 6: The Search for Ross and Unusual Pringles, 
aka St. Patrick's Day

We have finally gotten to St. Patrick’s Day—perhaps the most important day in Irish culture, here and around the world. All week, local businesses have been prepping their storefronts with Irish flags and banners, gearing up for the city-wide, weekend-long celebration that happens each year. Today, I got to experience St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland firsthand, and it was a little different than I expected.

After living through this infamous holiday in both the US and Ireland, I can honestly say that it is still not my favorite celebration. Many Americans want to use it as an excuse to open the pubs at noon and not leave until early into the morning, but that is definitely not my style. I was hoping being in Ireland would change that a bit—maybe at least add a seriousness that the American version lacks. But, alas, nothing is much different other than the parade aspect. Other than that, pubs are still packed with tourists hoping to get an “authentic” Irish experience.

As excited as we were for the festivities to begin, we had to go to class in the morning and get our learning done. Then, as soon as lunchtime hit, we started to prepare for the taxing time ahead. We started off the afternoon with the Cork City parade. Irish and non-Irish people alike gathered around the street decked out in green. Irish flag motifs showed up on hats, faces, hair clips, capes, and even on air horns. It appeared to me kind of like a Fourth of July parade, except there were more tourists. No one comes to America to “experience” a Fourth of July parade! Nonetheless, there were many loud and proud Irish kids, teens, and adults there to cheer on the walkers as they passed by.

Though it took a little while to get it going, the main features of the parade were pretty great. To begin, the various military and special forces marched by with what looked to be real rifles with bayonets, and very large cannon blasters pulled by trucks. After them, there were motorcycles, marching bands, various city organizations, and sports teams, as well as American and other cultural groups usually including cultural music. For some reason, there was a fire department from Amarillo, Texas dressed in full Scottish Highland garb, complete with bagpipes. Also, a mediocre marching band from Colorado...? As weird as that was, some of the other groups had some cool drumming and songs as they walked by. My favorite was what looked to be a military band of some kind, which was very talented and played some great music. My favorite part, though, was obviously the miniature antique fire truck replica pulled by the miniature horse. Cutest parade horse ever!

The art for the parade was also pretty neat. They did a lot of period dressing, since this year is the centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising, which started the independence of the Irish Republic. Banners labeled with leaders of the Rising passed by one by one, accompanied by an actor to play them. These leaders all died for the establishment of the Republic of Ireland, so this part of the parade was taken somewhat seriously. Following these men was a group of period women, meant to represent the women who helped the Rising but have gone unrecognized in history for their efforts. A theater next to our hotel is performing a play called Sisters of the Rising every night this week to call attention to their heroic efforts. There was also a hilarious skit on Irish weather. It started with the sun passing by, followed by chasing rainclouds and large water droplets, and ending with a beautiful purple moon flanked by silver stars. In addition, there was a Redhead Convention and an extensive skit on music and literature, the two main art industries Ireland holds pride in. They had a giant guitar and a house made of books, as well as dancing, fiddling foxes!

Even though we did not stay for the whole parade, it surprised me that there were no real Irish dance troupes or traditional musicians involved. There was an adorable group of young bohdrán players, as well as a host of modern dance clubs, but no blocks of Irish dancers like in an American St. Patrick’s Day presentation. Instead, there were a variety of local groups that wanted to participate, much like the aforementioned Fourth of July parade. But once we left and headed to a pub to try to find some trad music, the Fourth of July comparison ended. No more was the street equally lined with both Irish and non-Irish parade-goers—the pubs were completely taken over by tourists. Bands played at top volume in order to impress the American, Spanish, and Itatlian tourists. They played covers of songs I did not know, and was not particularly impressed by. 

The doors said “trad sessions”, but these were not really such. One pub had a very impressive flute, accordion, and fiddle trio, but it was broadcast throughout the winding building through loud, obnoxious speakers and streaming TV screens. This is not really an authentic traditional music experience—it is a far cry from not only our fabulously amazing session at Mother Rielly’s, but even the intimate local session we had at An Spailpín Fánach just the other night. Nothing in those places was crowded, even if things were snug. Today, all three pubs we attempted to visit either so little room we just walked right back out the door, so full that we found a corner in the back and then gave up, or was literally packed wall to wall and eventually ended up ejecting us completely. Plus, imagine the population completely intoxicated and singing loudly along to the band, or spilling drinks all over people whilst trying to move around. That’s not fun at all, and especially if all we wanted to do was listen to music. 

At first, I thought that the majority of these people were Irish, dancing to some sort of weird Celtic rock music. After all, the musicians inhabiting the stage were micced, but included an accordion, a banjo, a guitar, and a drum set. Not too far off from something like a trad group. But the closer we listened, all of these dancers excitedly bouncing around, wearing any combination of green, white, and orange, were indeed tourists singing to covered country songs. The desire of American/French/Spanish/Italian/insert-country-here tourists to experience St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland takes over the celebration of Irish culture, ultimately degrading it into an all-day drinking party. We decided not to even go out again after that, since nothing was really interesting to us. That American tackiness is not something we were interested in experiencing, so we just left. So far, I have been very underwhelmed by the St. Patrick’s Day events here. I know all of the intricate anthropological reasons behind such a degradation, but it still makes me a little bit sad that no one is really appreciating the day for the historical significance of a country’s independence—least of all the tourists, whom the day is apparently catered to. The whole system seems a little backward, and I feel bad that tourists have ruined a little bit of potential cultural education that could be happening. Who knows if they even know what they are doing, or what they are experiencing.

Either way, the festivities continue all weekend. We are all hoping that the crowds die down a lot over the next two days, so we can at least get into a pub and find a seat to listen to some music. Otherwise, we will have to wait until we get all the way to Galway to hear some more great session music. That thought makes me sad, but I fear it might be the case. Here’s hoping that An Spailpín Fánach and Sin É both clear out by tomorrow afternoon… wish us luck! Maybe I can even find myself some corned beef and cabbage.

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