Belfast Telegraph

We should all show spirit of St Patrick

Editor's Viewpoint

It remains one of the great ironies of St Patrick's Day. The place where he spent time as a slave and where he was reputedly buried is the place where today's celebrations are the most muted and, even at times, divisive.

Northern Ireland has had a somewhat uneasy relationship with celebrations marking the Patron Saint's feast day.

St Patrick may have brought Christianity to all parts of Ireland, but a common faith - if different rites - has never led to an inclusive celebration in this part of the island. To Protestants, parades have been too green-tinged to afford them comfort.

However, strenuous efforts have been made to remove overtly political emblems and flags from the celebrations in recent years.

There are indications that this is helping to make the day more inclusive.

Pupils from the Boys' Model School in Belfast will be featuring their drumming skills during a free concert, having wowed the audience on their debut last year.

Outside the city the atmosphere is more relaxed, with St Patrick's Day celebrations covering the weekend in counties Armagh and Down with something to appeal to all sections of the community. And, fittingly, the two cathedrals in Armagh had an ecumenical service last night, which is the proper reflection of the saint's heritage. His Christianity was all-inclusive of course, but it is a message that has been lost somewhat during the intervening centuries.

On a more secular note, the disorder in Belfast's Holyland area in recent years has besmirched the reputation of students living there. They are walking a tightrope with their universities and with the authorities over their behaviour. Perhaps they will learn how to enjoy themselves without causing offence to local residents or running foul of the law.

In the field of sport, there is much to enjoy with school finals in rugby, GAA and football, as well as Slaughtneil attempting to win an all-Ireland club GAA football title.

Meanwhile, far beyond the narrow borders of this province, St Patrick will be celebrated by the Irish diaspora with famous landmarks on every continent being turned green. Even in the killing fields of Afghanistan there will be a little bit of Ireland today when soldiers of the Royal Irish Regiment are presented with sprigs of shamrock.

The greatest honour we could pay St Patrick is to celebrate his day with the same generosity of spirit that is shown outside this land.

Belfast Telegraph

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