(Illustration by the Irish artist Henry Patrick Clarke 1889-1931)
Ireland has a unique history and culture that is far too often overlooked. St Patrick’s Day should be an occasion where people celebrate a great European civilisation but instead it has become a festival of mindless drunkenness indulged by people with no ancestral connection to the country at all.
Also, in Britain particularly there is a glaring ignorance about Irish culture coupled with a demeaning and stereotypical attitude directed against Irish people. These dehumanising stereotypes focus on the supposed childlike character of the Irish people and their dependence on their British masters. This is a false stereotype that was entirely concocted by the British state.
Ireland had a long and tortuous struggle against British rule, finally achieving independence in 1922. It retained its dominion status until 1937 when a new constitution was drafted and it effectively became a republic. Douglas Hyde was appointed as President the following year.
Hyde was an esteemed scholar and linguist. He was a modern language graduate from Trinity College Dublin with a particular interest in Irish, and he was fluent in his native tongue. He was determined to reclaim Irish history, folklore and traditions and ultimately divest British, but especially English influence from the country by “de-anglicising Ireland”. He was one of the greatest proponents of the revival of the Irish language and was the first Irish leader to declare St Patrick’s Day a national holiday.
According to an early Irish myth, a prophet called Goidel Glas was bitten by a venomous snake but was miraculously brought back to life by the staff of Moses. The mark of the staff on the snakebite was green which prophesied that his descendants were destined to settle in Ireland. This myth was later subsumed into the legend of St Patrick crushing the last surviving snake of Ireland with his staff.
These myths and legends have inspired Irish artists and writers for centuries. Ireland has a long and proud literary tradition which can claim great luminaries like Oscar Wilde, WB Yeats and the horror writer Bram Stoker.
Dublin, as the capital of Ireland is a cultural centre equal to Rome and Vienna. However it is unfortunate that there are still Britons with prejudices and paternalistic values that need to be challenged.