Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Ireland today must have St Patrick turning in his grave

The next time you are in Dublin and passing the Royal Dublin Society along Merrion Road, take a glance at the substantial lamp standards which you see at intervals along the kerb.

There is a long sweeping curve in the road as it passes the RDS. It is the main road to Dun Laoghaire and traffic moves fast — and the sweeping curve has caught many a careless driver unawares.

Just after the intersection with Serpentine Avenue on the left you can see that one particular Victorian lamp — they were originally gas — lacks the heavy, cast-iron ornamental surround, about five feet high, which adorns each of the others. Therein lies a sad story.

It all happened no less than 60 years ago in the small hours of one morning. There had been a dance in Trinity College and a party of students on the way home took the corner too quickly.

Their car was wrapped round that lamp standard with such force that it fractured the cast iron. One of the young women, rather a beauty as I recall, died in the crash.

There were fewer cars in those days. Only the most privileged students had one. So the accident made a headline. I mention it to underline the truism that students will be students. Believe it or not, I was once one myself. My kind got up to larks with the best.

But there was never anything approaching the vandalism which reduced the residential streets behind Queen's University to the status of a battlefield on St. Patrick's Day last week.

What went on was primitive and revolting and the patent indifference to the feelings of the unfortunate householders living in the midst of the mess has shocked many and angered even more. The institutions in which these youngsters are enrolled — not all are students at Queen's — claim to be taking steps to punish those who misbehave.

If this is so, all I can say is that the measures taken are proving singularly ineffectual. Perhaps the whole thing is another sign of the times. What are now called third-level students used to be a very select band.

Most of them were conscious of the privilege they enjoyed and were aware — high jinks and all — that it carried a matching responsibility.

Now, it appears, things are different. The privilege is very much taken for granted as a due: we live in the age of human rights and extending one's education into young adulthood is just one more. Of responsibility one hears — nothing.

If you don't like us — hard luck chum!The excuse for the vandalism, of course, was that it was St. Patrick's Day. There is a custom, widespread these days, that the occasion must be celebrated by getting tight ... canned ... jarred ... the euphemisms are endless: they all mean the same — getting drunk. The results are those with which doctors, the hospitals and the police have come to expect.

Road deaths, street fights, stabbings and general mayhem. It is a silly custom, long out-moded and a doubtful compliment to the saint. But then it is a strange festival altogether.

Another of its features is the mass migration which occurs just before it. This involves the departure to foreign parts of large numbers of Irish politicians from both sides of the border. Most go to the United States, where they proceed to pester a lot of very busy people among the natives with the detail of our domestic affairs. The circumstances surrounding the invitation connected with the annual migration remain obscure.

But there is the odd straw in the wind. A headline appeared in a Dublin newspaper in mid-January above an item which reported that the Taoiseach so far was not thought to have received an invitation to present a bowl of shamrock to the President of the United States on St. Patrick's Day.

But the impression was given that ministers would be travelling to the United States in any case, the Taoiseach included.

As we all know, the presentation did go ahead; although I was a mite nonplussed to see the President, upon receiving the said bowl from Mr Cowen, immediately handing it back to him. The ceremony, of course, is harmless enough.

But is not the whole business of this annual flocking over, palms outstretched, not a little embarrassing — even demeaning? Up here our politicians have latched on to the St. Patrick's gravy train and are in process of confirming the annual migration as a traditional event. As a result we grow used to it and are more inclined to overlook its peculiarity. The United States has ethnic ties with many nations and peoples, near and far; but I know of no others who indulge themselves in the manner of we Irish.

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