St Patrick’s Day – unity or division?

Calls for inclusion are complex

I have attended St Patrick’s Day parades in New York on a couple of occasions, and while they were often rousing and jolly, I didn’t always feel entirely comfortable by the political element of this event.

This is going back to the 1990s and the early 2000s, and at that time, there was a discernibly strong Republican and anti-British aspect, with certain banners calling for an end to ‘British occupation’ of Ireland.

This is surely a point of view, but it is also a rather over-simplified analysis of the complex situation around Partition, and the Unionist presence in the North. I am an anti-Partitionist, as it happens, but I want to see Ireland united through peaceful and democratic means rather than through hostile political positions. And quite honestly, I’d rather see St Patrick’s Day marked as a holiday of unity rather than one of difference.

In times gone by, Irish Protestants used to embrace Patrick just as much as Irish Catholics, and I think we should be working towards back towards that ecumenical ideal.  But the Paddy’s Day marches in America didn’t often reflect that notion, either, it seemed to me.

The jollifications around March 17 are terrific, and all the harmless fun involving dying the bagels green (and in the Chicago area, even colouring the lakes green) is grand. Patrick’s Day is, when all is said and done, a great, worldwide success, and that’s a good thing.

And if it’s increasingly ‘inclusive’, everywhere, shouldn’t we indeed press the organisers of the American marches to allow gay banners and gay marchers to be part of the parades? And support the Irish politicians who vow to boycott the parades unless they include gay participation?

There’s a lot to be said for ‘inclusivity’, and there’s always a lot to be said for tolerance. But by allowing for gay flags, banners and sections of the parade, is there a risk of encouraging the opposite of inclusiveness and ecumenism: that is, divisiveness?

It’s a complex debate, too, in that it is seldom wise to try and force this kind of issue, in a social context. To take an imperfect analogy: it would be nice if the Orangemen agreed to having  GAA participation in one of their marching bands, but it would hardly be constructive to try and coerce them to do so.

The political element in the American Patrick’s Day parades diminished with the peace process, and that ‘Brits-Out’ divisiveness faded. It’s a pity to see new quarrels breaking out over the Wearin’ Of the Green, and new notes of difference underlined.


God and Gravity

The film ‘Gravity’ has been nominated for 10 Academy awards (and has just won six awards at the British ‘Oscars’, the BAFTAs). It is one of the most unusual movies ever made in that it only has two visible characters in it (apart from some disembodied voices), played by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as disaster-struck astronauts.

The movie industry admires its technical accomplishments – you really do believe that you are floating through space. And also because the actors are superb, and the direction, by the Mexican Alfonso Cuaron, brilliant.

And some people have considered it to be a ‘spiritual’ movie, too. In one sense, it is. When Sandra Bullock’s character, Dr Ryan Stone, is literally lost in space, alone in a damaged Soyuz space station, she momentarily faces the fact that she is going to die. “Everyone is going to die,” she ruminates. “But I’m going to die today.”

She tries to come to terms with this, and then asks herself: “Who will pray for me after my death? Who will say a prayer for my soul?” The character is not a religious person – “I’ve never prayed in my life” – but the desire to be remembered in prayer and through prayer is articulated with feeling. In the abandoned Russian spaceship, a little icon of St Christopher carrying the child Jesus is pinned up over all the space gadgetry.

I won’t spoil the redemptive ending – it’s a survival movie – but there is a spiritual moment which turns the astronaut around, and leads her finally to give thanks.

I admired the visual beauty of the movie, though it certainly is a deterrent to space travel.


The power of monarchs

Modern monarchs don’t have much room for constitutional manoeuvre, but there have been prayers and hopes that King Philippe of the Belgians might refuse to endorse the appalling legislation enabling child euthanasia in that country. How can a child consent to be killed? The Italian and French media are justifiably outraged.

Philippe’s wife, Queen Matilde, is a good young woman and a mother of four, from a strong Catholic family. One must hope she has some influence too.