In the midst of this scary, stressful time in the world, some of us may have even forgotten today is St. Patrick’s Day. This story by local resident Tom Schiavoni, originally published in 2014, provides a little light-hearted content for the holiday.
It’s that time of the year again, marked by a shamrock on the calendars of descendants and—at least on March 17th—honorary descendants of the children of the Gael. St. Patrick’s Day, part religious and part cultural, is a time of celebration when the wearing of the green coexists easily with the spending of the green and the making of the green.
In America, this holiday is milked for its commercial value. Even in Boston’s North End where St. Joseph’s feast day is cherished two days later, some Italian restaurants still tape an obligatory cardboard leprechaun on a window and dangle plastic four-leaf clovers from the ceiling.Not to be outdone, the Irish back home have more than made up for lost time, green beer, fireworks and all. It’s a friendly rivalry, but when it comes to the marketing of ethnic stereotypes, the U.S.A. has a lot to learn. I fondly recall my first visit to Ireland in 1968 and personal encounter with Celtic entrepreneurship.
With a group of foreign students, I toured the majestic seascape and mountains of the Ring of Kerry. We rented a van on what our local driver described as a ‘soft day’. What he really meant was that it was not raining sideways. Hairpin turns along cliffs with no guardrails lent a touch of drama. The camera-laden entourage pressed their noses to the windows and murmured acts of contrition.
In the middle of nowhere, our driver stopped at a bog. The young people piled out of the vehicle at the sight of a smiling farmer in homespun and Wellingtons. He stood by the roadside with a sheep dog and a donkey bearing a load of turf garnished with sprigs of shamrock. A greeting card company could not have composed a more endearing scene.
With endless patience, the farmer posed for frame after frame of Kodachrome. At the final click of the shutters, our driver-host took us aside, mumbling something about a gratuity. The students dutifully searched their pockets in appreciation of the farmer with his outstretched hand.
The man was still waving goodbye when we lost sight of him through the rear window. I remarked to the driver about the incredible luck of discovering authentic rural life. Our host chuckled that it was more than happenstance. One afternoon this farmer had been digging turf when a busload of tourists caught him by surprise. He picked up a tidy sum of change from the grateful shutterbugs and soon came to the conclusion that there was an easier way of putting brown bread on his table than breaking his back in a damp bog. And so he stood, day after day, bus after bus.
I suppose we got what we wanted, flying home with postcard-quality photos and our stereotypes confirmed. Was this a case of exploitation? I have yet to decide who got the better of whom in a country so weary of foreign occupiers—the kind who once waded ashore with their ‘widow makers’ or the ones flying into Shannon now armed with Master Cards.
Thomas F. Schiavoni lives in Boston’s North End where he writes about neighborhood life and city living. Despite his surname, he claims cousins in Tipperary as well as Rome.