A new public holiday? Great, but pick a meaningful date…

A new public holiday? Great, but pick a meaningful date… A statue of the Virgin of El Carmen, patron saint of sailors, sets sail in the Mediterranean Sea near Malaga, Spain. Continental Europeans retained many of the religious holidays abandoned in Ireland. Photo: CNS

I think it’s a lovely idea to introduce a new public holiday in Ireland – to especially thank and commemorate all those health workers who gave of their best in the Covid-19 pandemic.

But just copying the American ‘Thanksgiving Day’ (on Monday November 29) is pathetic. It has no relevance to the context of Irish life. The date of a public holiday should have some meaning, or it should draw on some common and well-recognised tradition.

Irish-Americans join in with what is now a national tradition, but it is not theirs to bestow on the Irish in Ireland”

Ciaran Cannon, TD for Galway East, whose proposal this is, wants us to “share Thanksgiving weekend with 35 million Irish-Americans”. But the root of the Thanksgiving weekend is nothing to do with Irish-America: it was established by the Puritan Pilgrim fathers in thanksgiving for their harvests, after colonising the American continent. Irish-Americans join in with what is now a national tradition, but it is not theirs to bestow on the Irish in Ireland. Completely inappropriate, actually.

Public holiday

A new public holiday should surely have authentically Irish roots. There’s 1,500 years of Christianity to choose from, or, as an alternative, Druidic feasts from before St Patrick, which were often set with the rhythm of nature.

Or feast-days which have been dropped could be rescued. The Monaghan writer Patrick Kavanagh said that the most important day of the year was always August 15. In winter, December 8 used to be celebrated (as Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception) – and country people flooded to Dublin to shop. Clery’s in O’Connell Street was certainly en fête for that day!

The Harvard anthropologist Conrad Arensberg noted that Epiphany ( January 6) and Shrove Tuesday were days of great jollifications in Ireland, as was St Brigid’s Day. Shrove Tuesday, he observed, was often rambunctious, since it was regarded as the last day before Lent for weddings and marital capers.

But find a date which has some relevance to our culture”

Ireland has indeed fallen behind other EU countries in the number of public holidays allotted. But that’s because the continental Europeans didn’t junk the traditional holidays such as Mardi Gras, Corpus Christi, Ascension, and All Saints.

Introduce the new Irish public holiday, by all means.  But find a date which has some relevance to our culture.



Heidi Crowter, who, with Maire Lea-Wilson, leads a campaign to support Down’s Syndrome people called ‘Don’t Screen Us Out’ (DSUS). Heidi has raised more than £100,000 (€117,000) to challenge British law on late abortion. Abortion law discriminates against Down’s Syndrome infants, since they can be aborted right up to birth (whereas 24 weeks – in practice, 22 – is the limit for other pregnancies).

There is enormous pressures on mothers to agree to an abortion for Down’s Syndrome: DSUS have reports of mothers being bullied by doctors, even very late in pregnancy, to accede to a termination. Dr Helen Watts of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford – a Catholic charity which is concerned with medical ethics – says that it is deplorable that instead of supporting parents and children, the law and the practice is “inviting their parents to end their lives”.

DSUS brought a case to the High Court in London charging the law with discrimination under the Human Rights Act: the judges rejected their case, but Liam Fox MP will put forward a Down’s Syndrome Bill at Westminster later in the autumn with a view to changing the law.

It’s surely barbaric that the remedy for a disability is simply to kill the disabled.


France in distress

It is distressing to read of the French study, commissioned by the Bishops of France, which reports that over the past 70 years, about 3,000 priests abused minors in France. The report, known as CIASE, (the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse), seems to have been undertaken with thoroughness, although reporting isn’t explaining. And who can explain it? Did some demonic force enter the corporate spirit?

The only point I can add, from personal observation, is that I was taken aback, as a teenager, to hear how casual and lax French society could be about sexuality.

Back in those days, train compartments were enclosed units, and general conversation was common among the passengers. On a train from Pau, not far from Toulouse, to Paris, I heard casual chat about a very famous, and well-loved singer. “Il aime les petits garçons,” I was told – he likes little boys.

A Gallic shrug greeted this intelligence. (Although he is dead, I won’t name the singer, as it may spoil pleasure in his music, which is enchanting.) After the man’s death, it emerged that he had been involved with a teenage youth, which is hardly the same as “little boys”; but it was the casually accepting attitudes expressed openly that so surprised me.

This, I think, was regarded at the time as French sophistication. But in retrospect, it’s emerged in a different light.