16 March 2012 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Manifestations of Irish pride are never too far from the surface of our character.
They are simmering near the top of the cauldron of emotion evoked at the great festival of National Hunt racing in Cheltenham this week, ready to erupt in tumultuous celebration when a home-produced horse flashes past the winning post.
Irish pride will also magnify the atmosphere of the weekend’s rugby international against England at Twickenham, which will stir particular emotions in the breasts of Monaghan people as they cheer Emyvale’s Tommy Bowe on to another potential landmark in what is proving a remarkable career at the highest level of his sport.
And this summer holds out the prospect of another bracing tonic for the national spirits when the Republic of Ireland soccer team vie with the continent’s best in the European Championships in Poland and the Ukraine.
Sport has always formed a powerful focus point for the assertion of our sense of national identity and unity.
And, of course, the celebrations traditional to St Patrick’s Day, which are almost upon us, present perhaps the most inclusive opportunity available for us to enter the warm embrace of our ethnic or cultural commonage.
Despite the great changes that the world has undergone, and the perception that national and indeed local distinctiveness is becoming irretrievably eroded by globalisation, the Irish in their essence remain an island people.
While we would bridle at being any longer regarded as an insular, inward-focused nation in our social behaviour and our attitudes, we remain nonetheless particularly sensitive to, and protective of, the elements that constitute our idea of identity.
We carry this well beyond a sense of nationhood, and have established well-marked provincial and county differences that follow through with equal force into the perceived distinctions between one part of a county and another.
We have even come to measure distinctiveness of accent or habit on the scale of difference that can be drawn between townland to townland, town to town or village to village, even from one street or estate to another.
This instinct, not one exclusive to the Irish perhaps but defining all the same, has sometimes served us ill.
Kavanagh’s great poem Epic, when he recalls the “half a rood of rock” that became “…a no-man’s land/Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims” doesn’t just evoke a vanished parochial past when meagre means endowed even a minor boundary dispute with the stuff of great drama or mythic tragedy.
It echoes uncomfortably in a contemporary Ireland counting the cost of unbridled acquisitiveness and still making tentative although thankfully steady recovery from deep cultural antagonisms.
We have not always been a people tolerant of difference or altruistic in inclination – but our complex character has contained an irrepressible aspiration to overcome our parochial nature that, in its finest flowering, has taken us to some wonderful political, cultural and social achievements.
It will be that sort of triumph that is celebrated across Co Monaghan on Saturday next in the parades and other events that mark the national holiday.
None of these festivities could come about were it not for co-operation and collaboration between a great many strands of local activity, the temporary deferral of self-interest to serve the wider cause of community reinforcement.
This year’s Monaghan Town Parade offers particular reason for reflection on the value of such events as a force for community cohesion.
It marks the 30th anniversary of the modern parade tradition in the county capital, with a portion of Saturday’s attractions being a video and photographic excursion back in time over the highlights of the event’s history.
The unreeling images will carry a powerful nostalgic charge – but they will also reveal a story of considerable development in Monaghan Town’s commercial and civic life, a narrative of progress that has had, like the Parade itself, its occasional interruptions and setbacks, but has managed nonetheless to sustain a rising trajectory for which all those who have contributed to it deserve great credit.
In that they reflect the depth and commitment to the wider community cause possessed by the various sectors of local life, the Monaghan parade and its kindred events in our other towns and villages are important mirrors.
The images they cast are more than just colourful and superficial diversions for the day that’s in it – they show us by the extent of both their variety and inclusiveness the degree of harmony that exists among us, how much generosity of spirit is out there to call on for the sake of the wider good.
The Irish are sometimes derided for the manner in which we celebrate the feast day of our national saint, and rightly on occasions when mere drunken revelry is the product.
But our rich and well-established Parade tradition is of a different character.
Through it we blend our cherished differences into a brilliant mosaic – and make the pride of the Irish shine.

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