Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Why it's time we all got a day off to celebrate St Patrick

There are surely tourist boards throughout the world currently emerald with envy at that stunt pulled off by Tourism Ireland which persuaded some of the best known global landmarks to go green for St Patrick's Day.

From Table Mountain in Capetown to the iconic Las Vegas sign. From HMS Belfast on the Thames to – by far the most stunning – the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza.

A simple but spectacular gimmick, it highlighted the "visit Ireland" message to millions across the globe.

Like the Titanic, St Patrick – and his Day – are pure tourism gold. But again like the Titanic, it has taken us forever to catch on to this and to capitalise upon it.

In Northern Ireland we gloriously have all the major sites associated with the man and his mission to this land. The hill where he reputedly herded livestock. The wee church where he reputedly preached. The graveyard where he is buried.

What's more, unusually for this place, St Patrick is truly, totally cross-community. Both Catholic and Protestant schools and churches bear his name and recognise his importance. Even the Orange Order have named a lodge after him. Ian Paisley has written books about him. On St Patrick's Day Irish regiments of the British Army are presented with shamrock by Royals.

And across Northern Ireland that day is now celebrated with a myriad of festivals, parades, musical events and, granted, the odd bit of communal fisticuffs over flag waving.

The thing is though, if we are setting out to try to convince overseas visitors that St Patrick's Day is a good time to take a holiday here, we are starting from a basis of major disadvantage.

We don't actually get the holiday ourselves on St Paddy's Day.

It is only a bank holiday here. Not a proper public holiday. Which is, when you think about it, proper nonsense.

Last year Nigel Dodds raised the matter in Westminster but thus far there's been no progress. So this year as usual, some schools were on, some off. Some workplaces were open, some not.

Our political leaders chose to celebrate halfway across the world. Leaving the rest of us to drown our shamrock in our usual holiday halfway house.

We have a whole year until March 17, 2014. Surely we can sort a proper one-day public holiday by then.

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