Written March 2009
As the song I'd never heard before the Sopranos bled itself dry goes, I'm ‘just a small-town girl’. Or a deadened-little-village girl. Or maybe even a Well-there's-two-pubs-a-Shop-Local-and-the-parish-priest-has-a-Japanese-car kind of girl. Whatever. Let's just say I've seen my share of ridiculously irrelevant Paddy's Day parades. Oh yes. You know what I mean.
Now, in Dublin and Galway and Noo Yoik you get great big feckers of Paddy's Day parades, well thought out and planned with innovation and imagination. In small town Ireland, you get a string of unbridled lunacy so short, so repetitive, that it's like chomping through a wheelbarrow full of interesting mushrooms before hopping on an unoiled merry-go-round. Shall I describe it to you?
Phase One: The Pipe Band
It is a condition imposed by the underground but nonetheless extremely feasible St. Patrick's Day Blueshirt and/or Freemason-founded Coordinating Committee for International Cliche-Compliance that all Paddy's parades have to be preceded by a glut of scowling kilt-wearers with red knees and haphazard drumming skills. They always play the same song: The Caterwauling Of St. Brigid After Her Famous Cloak Got A Ladder In. They do not mingle with the crowd afterwards, disappearing into the haze for fear their identities, and possibly jocks, would be uncovered by tenacious biddies.
Phase Two: The Elderly Motors
It is a grand idea to show off souvenirs of the mechanical wonders of times past, to put us back in touch with the agricultural leaps and bounds made by our grandfathers. It is not a grand idea to let everyone with a pre-1990 banger which doesn't have chickens living in it join in. I have no idea what the Datsun brand had to do with St. Patrick, and I'm nowhere nearer that knowledge after watching Hughie the Coal Merchant glide idly by like a daydreamer on his way to the Co-Op who was sucked into the festivities in error.
Phase Three: The Local Funny Fuckers
Floats. Times were they consisted of a scoop of HB fecked onto a glass of Country Spring cola. Now a float is a low-loader upon which is placed the knob who does the impression of Joe Dolan at every wedding, his freckled hairdresser daughter, and yer man who has the parish's only punk rock denim waistcoat. They have green wigs on and are whooping underneath a banner proclaiming Ballymacwatsit's X-Factor!!!. This seems to be the only attempt at a unified motif.
Phase Four: The Irish Dancers
Sometimes, Paddy's Day committees will go so far as to hire, for the church's car park, a ceili band and a disused artic trailer upon which they can foist little girls with ringlets, leaping in sync to cure their chattering teeth. If your Paddy's Day brigade hasn't stretched to such entertainment in these, the dark days of recession, you will instead have flailing young wans high-kicking into potholes, never to be seen again.
Phase Five: Underage GAA Teams
Exactly as it says on the tin. They've got hurls and jerseys, and they walk in the parade. That's it.
Phase Six: The Billboards
You don't need to pay for sophisticated ad campaigns, viral internet techniques, or space in the programme of the All-Ireland semis when you have a Hiace with your company's name on, or an outsized sandwich board on a trailer, which you can cart through the parade like the world's most inconvenient commercial break.
Phase Seven: The Local Playgroups
Children are adorable. Let's put them in papier-mâché shamrocks and drag them through March winds till their jaws are whipped halfway round their heads! Well, that's the idea anyway, but it's difficult for children to look adorable when they're skittering along in floods of tears because they're being followed by . . .
Phase Eight: Every Biker In a Fifteen Mile Radius
Honking through the town, looking horribly embarrassed, revving out of wincing obligation and accompanied by unrestrained beards and slitty-eyed ten-year-olds on quad bikes, the bikers are an essentially flabbergasting addition to any local Paddy-fest. What's amazing is that there have been no reported fatalities despite said bikers looking straight up in the air throughout, violently picturing themselves somewhere, anywhere more counter-culturally acceptable.
And last but not least... The Grand Marshall
The reason I haven't put the Grand Marshall in at a specific stage in the run of festivities (although logic suggests that they would appear, waving most serenely, at the outset) is that the Grand Marshall's timetable - or indeed their basic attendance - varies from locality to locality, depending on which poor eejit they've conned into the position. The town's most elderly citizen? The young wan who got to the county final of the Rose of Tralee? A goat in a bonnet? Or, as in the parade I attended today, an enigma in a white limo. I dunno. Perhaps the Marshall was the limo. Nothing would surprise me at this stage.