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Celebrating St Patrick's Day a long way from home in London, Australia and South Africa

By Stephanie Bell

On St Patrick’s Day, we talk to three expats - now living in London, Australia and South Africa - to find out how they ended up so far from home and what the day means to them.

‘Everything here is centred on the colour green and having good time’

Author Annemarie Neary is originally from Newry and has lived near Clapham Common in London for more than 20 years. Annemarie,  whose first thriller, Siren, was published last year, is married to Michael Meade, a financial adviser, and has three boys, Patrick (24), Conor (21) and Rory (19). She says:

I grew up in Newry as the eldest of three children. I studied law, as did my younger brother and sister. My late father, Kevin Neade, was a lawyer with his own practice and my mother, Rhonda, is a retired primary school teacher who still lives in Newry.

"I left Newry when I was 18-years-old to study at Trinity College Dublin, where I met Michael who was brought up in London by Irish parents.

"I studied literature and after graduating, worked as a civil servant in Dublin while studying part-time for the next four years to qualify as a barrister.

"Michael returned to London to work and, as soon as I finished the bar exams, I joined him and have been here ever since.

"In London, St Patrick's Day is a big cultural opportunity and they do quite a lot; there is always some kind of event sponsored by the Lord Mayor.

"We also have that global greenery with the London Eye turning green as do Selfridges and Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. I always think that, as a country, what Ireland has achieved in branding with the colour green is amazing.

"The shops here would devote a section to St Patrick's Day selling themed goods - even the cake shops - and tonight you will see a lot of people, mostly in their 20s, in the bars wearing Guinness hats and drinking green beer.

"But all of that is not really my thing. When the kids were young, mum would have sent them some shamrock which was quite special as it was impossible to get any in London. The closest shops here got to it was to sell clumps of clover. The kids would have worn their shamrock to school and all the other kids would have wanted to know what it was, which was quite fun for them.

"We never do much on St Patrick's Day - I'm not one for parades. However, the events here are not political, but cultural, and everything is centred on having a good time and the colour green. This year though, I'm having friends over for dinner on St Patrick's night and I will cook something Irish as a nod to the day.

"As a child my biggest memory of St Patrick's Day is getting a day off school.

"We did go to the parade in Dublin a few times and as a young child it was amazing to see the floats, they were all so colourful. I also remember as a kid we would always try and wear something green on St Patrick's Day - not a leprechaun suit - but an item of clothing. Here, on the Tube, you do tend to see a lot of people wearing green on St Patrick's Day and I'm not sure if that is a coincidence.

"It was never really a religious thing for us. However, I do remember singing some hymns in school for St Patrick.

"As a child, I'm sure I can remember some talk about moving St Patrick's Day to July so there would be better weather, but obviously while the idea was mooted nothing ever came of that."

'I must admit that I feel lucky to have been born on the 17th'

Lynne Hanna, who turns 55 today, is originally from Dromara and moved to South Africa five years ago to take up the post of CEO for cosmetic giant Clarins. She lives with her husband Noel (50), a renowned endurance athlete. The couple enjoy the distinction of being the first husband and wife in the world to climb to the top of Everest together from both sides of the mountain. She says:

I was working for Clarins as manager in Northern Ireland when they offered me the job in South Africa. This meant a major move for Noel and I. It was a total change for us, but because I was still working with Clarins, it made the move easier and we really love the country and the South African people.

"Moving here was a big challenge and change from Northern Ireland, but the basics are the same. There are department stores and beauty counters here, just as there are in Belfast.

"Mind you, we also have clear blue skies and very little rain, so from that point of view, the move was not that difficult to make.

"I wasn't changing jobs as such because my role is very similar. However, it takes in Sub-Saharan Africa, from the Democratic Republic of Congo and right down the continent, so it is a huge area. It is exciting, new and we love it. We still have our house in Dromara and we get home as often as we can to see our family and friends.

"As St Patrick's Day is also my birthday, growing up I always got special St Patrick's birthday cards with shamrocks on them and a birthday cake from the Ormeau bakery delivered by the bread man. Of course, all the schools were closed for the day, and I must admit, I felt very lucky to be born on the 17th.

"Last year, my South African team really got behind St Patrick's Day and planned a surprise party for me.

"They dressed up in green and we had green cupcakes and, of course, only Irish music, although all they could find was U2.

"They love the idea of a country where there is a lot of rain. We have just come through one of the worst droughts in recent times here with virtually no rain for almost seven months, which makes you realise that we do really take our 40 shades of green for granted.

"This year we will be attending a party at the Irish embassy in Pretoria where no doubt there will be plenty of green Guinness.

"If we were at home, rain, hail or shine we would have been going up Slieve Donard for my birthday with a full Irish breakfast beforehand. However, in Johannesburg it's work as usual today.

"We are family members of The Irish South African Association.

"It exists to facilitate social contact between people of Irish descent and anyone who has an interest in all things Irish.

"They are organising the flagship party at the Irish embass y and it will be our first time attending a St Patrick's Day celebration here in South Africa.

"Noel has been home in Ireland for the past few weeks and came back yesterday with special treats for my birthday - Tayto cheese and onion crisps, a wheaten loaf and Sun-Pat peanut butter. It's funny how you miss the strangest of things when you are far away.

"From South Africa, whatever you do, I hope you have a wonderful St Patrick's Day."

'Australians really do pull out all the stops for St Patrick's Day'

Zoe Smith (40), a journalist with News Corp Australia, is originally from Lurgan in Co Armagh and now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her five-month-old son Lewis. She says:

Mine is a classic immigrant story - I grew up in Australia after emigrating here when I was five. My parents Margaret and David moved from Lurgan where I still have a large extended family. As I got older I was torn between the two countries and felt the urge to return to Northern Ireland. So I applied to study at Queen's University in Belfast and made the trip back, only to realise my true home was the land of Oz.

"I came back to Melbourne in 2000 and I've been here ever since, though I often get back to Northern Ireland for holidays and I love it. We also have plenty of family visiting from home.

"The Australians really do pull out all the stops for St Patrick's Day. For proof that St Patrick's Day is a truly global event, you only need to pull up a pew and grab a pint of green beer at one of the many Irish-themed bars in Melbourne.

"Geographically speaking, you can't get much further away from the Emerald Isle - it's roughly 10,600 miles from Royal Avenue to Melbourne's Bourke Street.

"But March 17 is the day Australia turns 40 shades of green. We're a country built on migrants and the Irish blood runs thick.

"St Paddy's Day is all about having fun, not to mention lashings of the black stuff. There are street parades, fancy dress and parties - lots of them.

"The Guinness is flowing and everyone imbibes a wee bit more than they should, which incidentally, can be a dodgy thing in 30 degree heat.

"In Sydney the huge St Patrick's Day parade - known as The Green Gathering - is a family event that attracts thousands, featuring marching bands, Irish dancers and a children's parade.

"My St Patrick's Day this year will be a bit more low-key - I'll be giving the Irish bar near my workplace a miss and will be celebrating a much bigger event, my son's five-month birthday.

"Growing up, St Patrick's Day wasn't really a big deal for me and it wasn't huge for my family. One year I did go to Dublin where there was an amazing vibe, with thousands of people and the biggest parade I've ever seen.

"For many migrants, it becomes so much bigger when you leave Ireland's shores. It's not just a day of partying - it's a way of reconnecting with home. It got much bigger when I left Northern Ireland for Australia."

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