MICHAEL WOLSEY: Come back St Patrick, better late than never
Around this time last year I was enjoying a long weekend in Clare, a Christmas present from my daughters who joined me on the trip.
Rumours of a new virus were in the air but the virus itself was mainly confined to China. When we saw some Chinese visitors wearing facemasks – a normal precaution in Asia against ordinary colds and flu – we joked that soon we might all be dressing that way.
Some joke. Within weeks the virus had spread to Italy and shortly after that came the infamous Cheltenham meeting when hundreds of punters caught Covid and brought it back to Ireland.
I still found it hard to take the threat seriously. Indeed, I wrote a piece saying this was just another variant on winter flu and there was no need to panic.
The moral of this story is that you should take your medical advice from a doctor, not a journalist. And not from a politician either, although our politicians, just fresh from a general election campaign, were coping well with some very big decisions.
Their biggest decision was to cancel all the St Patrick’s Day events. It announced, in effect, that Ireland was closed to visitors, and it dealt a terrible blow to the tourist trade. However it was undoubtedly the right move. It stopped Covid’s early advance through Ireland from turning into a total rout of our health service.
Few thought then that this plague would still be ravishing the country a year later. In fact the situation is as bad, if not worse, than when the crisis began – with the big difference that we now have a vaccine and can be confident that an end to our woes is in sight.
However, the vaccine won’t have turned the tide before March 17 and I think it about time the Government announced that St Patrick’s Day events will be cancelled again. Even if the current Covid wave has been crushed by then, it would be very risky to let the full show go ahead and, anyway, I doubt if all the arrangements and bookings could be made in so short a time.
The best course would be to cancel – and announce plans for a Better Late Than Never St Patrick’s Day. It would be tempting fate to put a specific date on the event just yet, but Fáilte Ireland could pencil it in for late May or early June and confirm it as soon as possible.
The Better Late festival would not only salvage the St Patrick’s Day business but would be a great way to kickstart our tourist trade, bringing Ireland back with a bang.
If it caught on, maybe we could stick with the new date. Let’s face it, mid-March is a terrible time to hold a big outdoor event in Ireland. How often have we seen majorettes turning blue with cold, bandsmen bailing out rain from their instruments and elaborate floats destroyed by high winds.
I don’t know what the Church would have to say about a move. But St Patrick’s Day has long ceased to be a religious event. It’s a time when all the world pretends to be Irish and a large part of it descends on this country for a bit of fun.
That would go a lot more smoothly in May than in March – not just this year, but this year most certainly.
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