Belfast Telegraph

A saint who resonates with all sides of the community

By Eamonn O'Neill

Patrick as an individual can be described as a man for all communities. His legacy transcends all cultures, countries and continents. He was the first truly Pilgrim Saint.

He was also a man with all the frailties and failings of humankind. But it was his essential humanity, in all its vulnerability, that makes Patrick such an identifiable figure for modern society.

In the United States the legacy of Patrick is as vibrant in Savannah as it is in Scranton, Boston, Chicago and New York.

In Moscow, Shanghai, Dubai, Warsaw, Paris, Dublin and London the genesis of Patrick will continue to prove, as it does every March, that the magnetic pull of his message is far stronger than any genetic pool generated within Ireland.

The now worldwide multi-culturalism of the identification with the saint is a tribute to those from this island that have travelled so far over so many centuries.

In doing so they provided the framework of acceptance that is now the benchmark of a modern Ireland, irrespective of any cultural or religious or political badge.

It is unfortunate that a minority of people have cynically attempted to hijack the tricolour and misuse it to damage good community relations.

I appeal to people who have been deterred from attending today's parade in Downpatrick to reconsider their decision.

I want to assure everybody that it will be an enjoyable community event for all to share.

I am bringing my little granddaughter and am hopeful that it will be a happy, family-friendly, memorable day whereby people, regardless of their religion or political belief, can celebrate the memory of St Patrick.

Every country has had to struggle with the issue of conflict and overlapping identities.

Ireland, north and south, Catholic and Protestant, understand that pain more than any other country.

However Patrick provided, and I would argue continues to support, this island with the necessary tools to give a lead to all of humanity in terms of providing a platform for genuine reconciliation.

The mix of backgrounds and beliefs that is represented in modern Ireland crosses all barriers and borders.

The new Irish have come from all backgrounds and counties. But from wherever they have originated they are now Irish.

Like Patrick they have been able to gradually overcome the resentment of those that refused to accept the validity of a changing society.

Just as our ancestors made a massive contribution to the development and building of new worlds both intellectually and physically, so will the fresh influx of new thinking help reinvigorate Irish society.

Those of us that come from Down make no apology for claiming a special relationship with the Patron Saint of our island.

We are proud of the way in which we have helped preserve the memory of Patrick.

As a local community in Down District we are always conscious of the fact that we are custodians of a unique heritage.

One of the traits of the Irish, no matter what their background or particular strand of personal cultural identification, is that Patrick resonates with all sides of the community.

No matter how much some may try to claim exclusive ownership rights, he belongs to all who accept his message of tolerance and understanding.

The simple message of Patrick is one that is easily understood.

It is that as human beings, while we obviously have different lives to live out, our essential roots are the same. To shirk the challenge posed by Patrick would be a betrayal of our collective past and a rejection of a united future.

In this week of the Patron Saint we cannot reject his fundamental message.

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