Nick Boretsky, a sophomore at Central Connecticut State University, spent St. Patrick’s Day in the beautiful Northern Ireland town of Derry. He was kind enough to share his experience!
“On Monday March 17, I had the opportunity to spend Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland’s city of Derry. I was in Ireland as part of a history course I am currently taking at CCSU on Irish history and political conflict.
While I was in Derry, I was anticipating Saint Patrick’s Day to be more focused on religion than in the U.S. It was clearly an important holiday in the city, as nearly all the small shops and businesses in Derry were closed for the day. However, the day to celebrate Saint Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland did not appear to be the focus of the holiday. Derry was very active that day with many people in the streets, visiting the different displays, expeditions, and music festivals. As I spent more and more time in Derry, it became increasingly apparent that Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland has evolved into a holiday to celebrate nationalism as opposed to religion.
While in Derry, children, teenagers, and young adults filled the streets. Most of them temporarily dyed their hair green, were wearing the Irish flag on their back like a cape, and had Irish shamrocks painted on their faces. A detail I also noticed was that while wearing the Irish flag on their back, the green section of the flag was always the color on top, and orange was always the color on the bottom. In Ireland, green is the color that symbolizes Irish independence and nationalism, while orange is the color that symbolizes a union with England. Green was the color positioned to be on the top because it favors a unified Ireland without English influence. This was striking to me while I walked the street of Derry, because it made me aware that St. Patrick’s Day showed very few signs of religious celebration, but an abundance of signs that promoted the Republic of Ireland.
It is important to be mindful that Derry is a city in Northern Ireland, a separate country from the Republic of Ireland. It still favors a union with England and is an official member of the United Kingdom. The many Unionists in Derry still prefer to call their city Londonderry as a sign of allegiance to Britain. But the entire day, I did not see a single Northern Ireland Unionist Jack flag, nor did I see an English flag. Instead, the Northern Ireland city of Derry was flooded with the flag and other symbols of the Republic of Ireland.
As it may have been expected, the bars and pubs in Derry were extremely crowded – not just at night but throughout the entire day. I was able to squeeze myself into one of the pubs, and a song was played by a musician that really struck me. The musician played the song, “This Land Was Made For You And Me.” Instead of the U.S. version of the song, the singer incorporated different Irish cities into the song. One line he sang went as follows, “All the way from Dublin, to the city of Derry, this land was made for you and me.” The singer always followed a city from the Republic of Ireland with a city from Northern Ireland, sending the message that these cities from two separate countries were made for Irish men and women and are meant to coexist in harmony, NOT as cities in two different countries.
Overall, I learned a valuable lesson from spending Saint Patrick’s Day in Derry. Although I may have learned how much the Irish enjoy going to pubs on the holiday, I also gathered that Saint Patrick’s Day has become a day to celebrate a unified Ireland that aims to dispose of the two separate countries that exist today. There have been centuries of conflict in Ireland that resulted in a country split in two. Saint Patrick’s Day showed me that the fight to achieve a unified country of Ireland is very much alive. Due to the amount of violence and conflict in the past, this a change that may take years or even decades to accomplish. As an Irishman said to me during my day in Derry, “from despair comes hope.” Hope is very much alive in Derry and throughout Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day may be about the bringing of Christianity to Ireland, but it is even more so about hope for a unified Ireland. A hope so strong that shows no sign of ceasing.”