Journals from National University of Ireland in Galway
2012-03-20 St. Patrick's Day
The celebration downtown
Last Saturday was St. Patrick's Day. I took a pretty laid-back approach to it, but I had fun watching my friends' excitement and hearing about their shenanigans. Unfortunately I don't have any adventures of my own to report, being a perennial creature of comfort who likes to retire early (and therefore misses a good deal of the Irish nightlife), but I thought I'd share some of my thoughts from my walk through town during that afternoon's celebrations.
While I know some cities in America enthusiastically celebrate St. Patrick's Day with events possibly equaling Irish fervor, I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere and celebrated with a nice quiet family dinner of parsnips and corned beef. I can't speak to the former, but Galway's approach to the holiday differs, at least on the streets, rather dramatically from the latter. On a clear day it isn't unusual to see Market and Shop street comfortably peopled, but this Saturday it was absolutely packed.
Most of my friends went downtown to see the parade and then hit the pubs, but I waited until the early afternoon and ventured down alone so I could wander the streets at my own pace. I wanted to people-watch. It's true that there was quite a bit of drinking that went on – cans and plastic cups overflowed from rubbish bins and lined the outer sills of shop windows, and the crowds at pubs included a bubble of loiterers extending out into the street at each door – but there were many families out too. Street artists covered the faces of children in gigantic shamrocks, butterflies, or tigers, and there were musicians and some sort of performer I couldn't see, standing at the center of a tightly-knit group of children and their families. People of all ages stood clustered at corners and intersections, laughing and at ease, and that was my favorite part about it: it was nice to see so many people enjoying themselves.
I wandered along the streets for several hours, snapping pictures as surreptitiously as possible, and I thought about the different groups celebrating and wondered how they might compare and contrast. Older and young, visiting and Irish, it was difficult to make distinctions on the street. It wasn't until I returned home and saw a photo I'd taken of an older gentleman that I began to wonder how just this one day has changed over the years. I was struck by his look. It seemed to me to reflect the passage of time, as though he were seeing earlier days. Holidays and the ways people celebrate them slowly transform, and it's interesting to think about my own experiences here as both separate from the past and still a part of a process of becoming – in this case, the becoming of what it means to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Galway. Perhaps if I come back years from now on a St. Patrick's Day, I will find a different reflection of Galway embodied by it. Perhaps some aspects of it will always be the same. It's hard for me, as a stranger, to know exactly what those are, but I was glad to be witness to a part of it.