Michael Green

About Michael Green

Michael Green is Manager of The Information about Ireland Site

Saint Patrick’s Day Traditions

The Wearing of the Green

The tradition of wearing Shamrock to celebrate Saint Patrick seems to date from the seventeenth or eighteenth century. This was a very turbulent time in Irish history. The suppression of the Gaelic way of life by the ruling British invaders resulted in many aspects of the Catholic religion in Ireland being forced underground. Strict laws were enforced which prevented the Catholic population from attending schools so ‘hedge-schools’ were operated in secret.

Shamrocks - one of the symbols of Ireland

These were schools run outdoors in secluded places (sometimes literally ‘under a hedge!). The teaching of religion was also forbidden so it is only to be expected that teachers would use naturally available resources to inform their pupils. Thus the Shamrock plant was used to illustrate the message of the Christian Holy Trinity.

Saint Patrick was credited with using the Shamrock in such a manner so the wearing of the Shamrock by the oppressed Catholic population became a means of demonstrating their defiance to the ruling British class. It also imbued a sense of kinship among the native Gaelic people, differentiating them from their oppressors.

Wearing a clump of Shamrock is now a firmly established tradition throughout the world to celebrate not just Saint Patrick but Ireland itself. The Shamrock symbol is widely used by businesses seeking to associate with Ireland and, along with the Harp, is perhaps the single most recognisable symbol of Ireland. It is a shame though that the Shamrock is not a blue plant as the color originally associated with Saint Patrick was blue!

Saint Patricks’s Day Parade

Saint Patrick’s Day is unique in that it is celebrated worldwide. It is most unusual that a country has such an international celebration and is really evidence of the generational effects of emigration that has afflicted Ireland for centuries. After the 1845 to 1849 Irish Famine emigration soared with as many as a million native Irish leaving their homes in the decades after the famine to settle in places like Boston, New York, Newfoundland, Perth, Sydney and beyond. The US Census Bureau now reports that 34 Million US Citizens claim Irish descent. Most emigrants like to commemorate their heritage and thus the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade came into being.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, New York, 1909

The earliest record of a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was in the year 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the British Army held a Parade in New York City. Earlier records suggest that the day was celebrated by the Irish in Ireland as early as the ninth and tenth centuries.

Again, this was a very difficult time in Irish history with Viking raiders terrorizing the native Gaelic population. It is thus no surprise then that in times of strife the local population would turn to religion and to a commemoration of their own heritage and individuality – a practice that has been repeated by populations of troubled places since the dawn of time. The New York Parade is now the longest running civilian Parade in the world with as many as three Million spectators watching the Parade of over 150,000 participants.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade, Dublin

The first official Parade in Ireland was in 1931. The 1901 law that copper-fastened March 17th as an Irish national holiday was later amended to insist that public houses close down on the day. This restriction was later lifted in the 1970′s. In the mid 1990′s the Irish Government really started to promote the event when it changed from a single day’s Parade into a 5-day festival attracting as many as a million visitors into the country. Parades are now held in just about every major city in the world with the biggest in several US cities reaching epic proportions.

Chicago River on Saint Patrick's Day

Greening of Rivers and Buildings

The use of the color green reached new heights (or plunged new depths!) when in 1962 the city of Chicago decided to dye part of the Chicago River green. Since then the campaign to have just about every possible landmark turned green for the day has taken off in earnest and in recent years has included the Irish Parliament building, the Sydney Opera House, the Empire State Building, Niagara Falls and even the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt!

A Pint of Plain

The Irish association with drinking is well known and not always positive. Fortunately there are plenty of examples of the appropriate use of alcohol and Saint Patrick’s Day is one of them. It is a widely held tradition in Ireland that beer or whiskey can be taken on Saint Patrick’s Day although native Irish pub-goers can only look on aghast as visitors top the heads of their creamy pint of Guinness with a green Shamrock. Sacrilege! It is estimated that as many as 13 Million pints of Guinness are consumed on Saint Patrick’s Day, up from the usual 5.5 Million per day!

Saint Patrick's Day Girl

Dressing Up

The tradition of dressing up in Irish outfits is not just confined to participants in Parades. Jovial creatures of Irish origin the world over use the opportunity of Saint Patrick’s Day to dress up as Leprechaun or even as Saint Patrick himself. Kids love to wear the big green, white and orange hats and receive sweets thrown to them by similarly clad operators of the various Parade floats.

The Saint Patrick’s Day Dinner

Corned beef and cabbage is as traditional and Irish meal as you will ever find and it is often hauled out for Saint Patrick’s Day. Traditional Irish music in the background and a family gathering are other Irish Saint Patrick’s Day traditions that have been going on for centuries.

by Michael Green
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Blow to Economy as Tourists from Britain Desert Ireland

The number of visitors from Britain has fallen by as many as a Million visits since 2007 when 3.7 Million trips from Britain to Ireland were recorded.

Six short years ago Ireland was a very different place. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ still stalked the land although his days were numbered. A property market collapse and financial ruin were just around the corner. Britain suffered its own recession too but was spared the carnage caused by the banks that Ireland suffered. Against this backdrop it is perhaps no surprise that visitors from our closest neighbour have decided to opt for sunnier climes.

The Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) are doing everything they can to reverse the trend but are not helped by the high costs they face in running their businesses. Commercial Rates are effectively an extra big tax on their income. Many Hotels are also suffering negative equity in respect of the development of their Hotel property after the market collapsed in 2008. Consequently Hotel rates in 2012 were at their highest level since 2008 according to a Hotels.com survey.

Killarney at 101 euro per night was listed as the most expensive destination for Hotel rooms where the country averaged 90 euro per night. Irish Hoteliers are not at all happy with the survey though, claiming that the cost of rooms has been greatly reduced in recent years despite persistently high costs and that Ireland compares favourably to most other popular European destinations.

Tourism is vitally important to the Irish economy accounting for 5.3 Billion Euro in revenue and employing 11% of the entire workforce of the country.

by Michael Green
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Government ‘Divide & Conqueror’ Strategy to Test the Resolve of Public Sector Unions

A successor to the ‘Croke Park Agreement’ has been finalized that will see cuts of 1 Billion Euro from the Government pay bill. The deal includes pay cuts for all staff, and up to 10% for top-earners, additional hours of work at no extra pay, and reductions in allowances and premium payments.

As many as nine Unions have already indicated that they will not support the new deal and are recommending that their membership reject it. The consequences of being outside of the new arrangements are likely to make for a very difficult situation for the Unions. It is very likely that the Government will unilaterally reduce the pay of those staff who do sign up to the deal, a step that will almost certainly cause strikes.

The Government seems to be playing hardball this time around. The new proposals actually provide for some compensation to public servants in two years time in certain situations, but only to those Unions that sign up to the deal. Those staff who opt out will not receive the agreed compensation. Divide and conqueror seems to be the tactic.

Similarly the deal provides for zero compulsory redundancies for those Unions that sign up – a huge concession given the current unemployment rate of over 14%. Those left outside the umbrella of the agreement however will have no such comfort and may see compulsory redundancies implemented, on top of compulsory pay cuts.

The divisions in the Unions are becoming apparent. The huge Impact Union that represents over 63,000 public servants has recommended that the deal be accepted. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation however is to recommend rejection of the deal to its 40,000 members. Similarly Teachers Unions have rejected the deal. Already a group representing Gardai, Nurses, Paramedics and Fire-Fighters, some 70,00 public servants, has been formed to co-ordinate its opposition to the deal.

The problem with the deal from a Union perspective is that it requires every public servant to take a pay cut. While this may seem reasonable in the case of a person earning over 65,000 euro per year it is a lot harder on lower paid civil and public servants, nurses and front-line staff, many of whom earn less than 30,000 euro annually.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is determined that the cuts to pay and conditions have to me made:

“Implementing these savings by agreement with public service staff would be another big step on the road to economic recovery, and would send out a signal to the world that the Irish people are determined to fix our economic problems and restore the country to prosperity and full employment.”

It is ‘Game On’ with division, public protest and strikes inevitable.

by Michael Green
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Further Fianna Fail Poll Surge Is The Low-Mark Of Irish Despondency

The ruling Fianna Fail Party was trounced in the 2011 election. At 17% of the vote they seemed to be on the very edge of oblivion. Fine Gael and Labour had brushed them aside, bolted into power on a wave of optimism about ‘real change’ and ‘burning the bond-holders’ (a reference to not paying back bank loans to unsecured bond-holders in Europe).

For a while it seemed that there might actually be some a change in direction. But alas it is now clear that the current Government has merely assimilated the trappings of power worn with such gusto by Fianna Fail, and in fact is implementing much of the previous Government’s policies.

It is difficult now to see any real difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael from a policy standing. The historical civil-war divide between the two parties is now all but irrelevant. Fine Gael have made very few changes to the deal struck with the EU/IMF/ECB troika who are lending Ireland huge sums of money in order to pay back German and French banks (and at a nice interest rate). Even the renegotiation of the Irish Promissory Note Deal is but a scratch on the surface of the mountain of debt facing the country. Heralded as a triumph it actually increases the amount of debt Ireland owes!

The Irish electorate is facing a scenario where there are two big Parties occupying the moderate central section of the Irish political landscape (Fine Gael, Fianna Fail) while the Labour Party vainly attempts to brand itself as the party of the left wing, a space now dominated by Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party. Rumours abound that the vacancy for a more right-of-centre Party may about to be filled with the establishment of a new ‘Progressive Democrats’ style of Party, but it has not happened yet.

The most recent opinion poll shows that Fianna Fail are now the best supported Party in the country at 27% compared to Fine Gael on 25%, 20% for Sinn Fein and Labour at 13%.

How could this happen?

How could the Party that was in Government while the Irish economy imploded be a mere two years later regarded as the best bet to lead Ireland to recovery?

Perhaps it is a sign that the current Government has failed or that the prospect of Sinn Fein in power is just too much for some people. Perhaps it is the disgust with the Labour Party being expressed so openly now by even some of its own membership. Perhaps it is the now five years of austerity and hardship that has been imposed on a relatively docile Irish citizenry by its masters in Government.

Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above – or is it that such are the depths of Irish despondency and cynicism with the Irish body politic that people will now vote for anyone just to get some real change.

Anyone.

Even Fianna Fail.

by Michael Green
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Irish Government Finally Issues Apology to Magdalene Survivors

The Irish Government response to the release of the Report into the extent of Irish State involvement in the now infamous ‘Magdalene Laundries was very poor indeed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny botched the response and unwittingly inflicted more stress and hardship on the victims. The easy and honorable thing to do would have been to immediately apologise to the victims of what were essentially State-Sponsored Labour camps.

Instead of apologising Enda Kenny decided that his Government needed more time to examine and consider the findings of the Report. Now, in respect of putting together a proper financial compensation package for the estimated 1000 still surviving women who were interred in these prisons, a considered approach is certainly appropriate. But quite why an immediate apology did not follow is a source of bafflement to just about everyone outside of the Taoiseach’s close circle of handlers and advisors and prompted severe media criticism.

The backlash had an effect. Enda Kenny finally stood up in Dail Eireann (the Irish Parliament) and apologized to the women, some of whom were in attendance:

“Therefore, I, as Taoiseach, on behalf of the State, the Government and our citizens, apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt done to them, and any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry”

The Government has also established a fund to provide compensation for the victims of the 10 Magdalene Laundries. Labour leader Eamon Gilmore criticized the four religious orders who ran the Laundries and called on them to help provide compensation for the women.

The apology does not mark the end of the investigation into the running of the Laundries but it is a starting point and hopefully will provide some measure of, if not closure then at least acknowledgment, for the women who suffered so badly in these most terrible of places.

by Michael Green
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Saint Valentine Was Irish!

Ok, he was not really Irish but in the true Irish tradition of claiming association to just about anything that is good we Irish are claiming the Saint as our own.

We do have some grounds for this assertion – bear with me.

Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin is the unlikely resting place for the relics of Saint Valentine. That’s right! While desperate men the world over rush to their nearest Garage fore-court to buy half-battered bunches of red roses in the hope that it will get them out of jail, the knowledge that there is an Irish connection to Saint Valentine still escapes the masses.

Pope Gregory XVI presented the remains of Saint Valentine to an Irish Carmelite named John Spratt in the year 1835. He had been visiting Rome and preaching at the famous Jesuit Church there to much acclaim. In 1836 the remains were received by Archbishop Murray of Dublin and have remained in Whitefriar Street Church ever since. An Altar and Shrine were installed in the 1950′s depicting the Saint as a martyr. An inscription on the Altar reads:

This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood.

The annual mass on February 14th includes a ceremony to bless wedding rings of those betrothed, in the hope that such a blessing will help secure a successful union.

There may have even been two Saints named Valentine. Valentine of Rome died about the year 269 during the persecution of Claudius the Goth. The other Valentine was allegedly Bishop of Terni. It is possible that the two memories are in fact of the same person.

There are several legends regarding his martyrdom. The first suggests that he was beheaded for illegally marrying young Christians in opposition to Roman rules. Another suggests that Valentine was imprisoned for helping a young blind girl named Julia, again contrary to Roman law. Knowing he was about to die he wrote a final note to the young girl and signed it ‘From Your Valentine’. The note contained a crocus flower and upon opening it for the first time the young girl’s sight was restored. In the year 496 Pope Gelasius I named February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day and ever since that day has been associated with flowers, note-giving and all things romantic.

So there you have it – Saint Valentine was Irish. Ok, it is not an open and shut case but we do posses his relics and that is good enough for us. Did you know that Saint Nicholas (Santa!) is buried in Kilkenny? More about that in December.

by Michael Green
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Debt Deal for Ireland: A Step in the Right Direction?

The Irish debt deal did not reduce the amount owed by the country. Ireland still owes in the region of 125BN Euro – a staggering figure that will take decades to pay off. The new debt deal merely allows part of the debt to be paid off over a longer term.

This is not necessarily a bad thing if you are able to ignore the immorality of it. By pushing the debt repayments down the road to the year 2053 the current Government has essentially lumbered today’s toddlers with the task of paying their parents debts. On the other hand, the breathing space that will be created by not having to pay as much as 2BN Euro annually over the next 10 years has given the current generation the opportunity to create jobs and growth to repair the damage sooner.

Under the deal the Central Bank of Ireland swapped high-yielding ‘Promissory Notes’ for longer-term Government Bonds. The original deal was to cost over 3BN Euro annually for the next 10 years. The new deal sees a reduction in the interest rate from 8% to 3% and stretches the loan out to 40 years. This reduces the borrowing requirement of the Government in the short term which it is hoped will free up funds for job creation.

The response in Ireland to the news of the deal has been broadly welcoming although those opposed to the whole concept of the Government bailing out the banks to begin with used the opportunity to demand that a write-down of Irish banking debt be sought immediately.

The Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition Government made the point that the European Central Bank has never agreed to debt write-down before so it would have been pointless to even negotiate on that basis. The more militant of those opposing the Government want to see an immediate default on the debt to force the issue with the ECB, EU and IMF.

This may yet happen.

The level of debt being carried by Irish citizens and small businesses is reaching catastrophic proportions. Although the economy of the country has stabilised it is still quite dreadful. Unemployment in Ireland is stuck at over 14%, Irish emigration is at pre-Famine levels and job creation is barely perceptible. The gamble by Fine Gael that they can soldier on in the hope that the economy recovers may backfire under an avalanche of personal debt and mortgage defaults. In such a scenario a massive default on the loans granted to us by our European ‘partners’ will become a question of ‘when’ and ‘how much’ rather than ‘if’.

Against this backdrop the much vaunted ‘Promissory Note’ deal may become just another footnote in this bizarre period of Irish history.

by Michael Green
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Magdalene Laundries Abuses To Be Made Public

The Report by the Committee that was established to investigate the role that the Irish Government played in the abuses perpetuated in the notorious ‘Magdalene Laundries’ is to be published.



In the decades that followed the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922 and the Republic in 1948 the Catholic Church had tremendous influence in Ireland. It is only since the 1970′s that this influence has declined. Over the last two decades the litany of abuse carried out in institutions by religious orders and sponsored by the State has been graphically exposed. One such institution was the ‘Magdalene Laundry’ where young girls and women who had a child out of wedlock, or who were prostitutes, or who were even homeless, were basically interned.

The Laundries were state-sponsored workhouses. Although privately owned by religious orders they were subsidised by the Irish State for part of their existence. Thousands of women were forced to work in the Laundries which were run on a for-profit basis by several religious orders. The inmates were imbued with a sense of shame – their first names were changed and their surnames never used. They were often labelled as ‘Maggie’ by those of the public they encountered – a slang-word for a prostitute. It is both an amazing and damning fact that the final Laundry did not close until 1996. Located in Sean McDermott Street it is in the very heart of Dublin city centre.

The survivors of the Laundries – ‘Magdalene Survivors Together’ – have demanded that the Government finally issue an apology for the part it played in the abuse. The instigation of an appropriate compensation scheme is also the very least that can be done now. What compensation can their be for a life destroyed by these terrible places? Many did not even make it out the front gate. At least 988 women were buried within the grounds of the Laundries – likely many more died within the walls.

It is amazing that this new enquiry only took place after prompting from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in 2011. Perhaps now ‘Official Ireland’ will give these women some sense of justice.

RTE report highlighting the Magdalene survivors campaign:

The 2002 feature film ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ is available to view on YouTube:

by Michael Green
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Nurses Set To Claim Victory In Showdown With Government

The recent attempts by the Irish Government to recruit new nurses into the profession at 80% of the usual starting wage has backfired.



Nursing Unions have mounted a vocal campaign against the scheme which they regard as an insult to the work done by nursing staff on the front line of the health service. The Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) has been forced to extend the deadline for applications after interest in the jobs was reported as being very low. Should the HSE be forced to abandon the scheme all together it will be seen as a victory for the Unions whose members are increasingly being asked to work longer and harder for less and less pay.

Union leader Liam Doran was scathing of the HSE decision to extend the scheme:
‘The HSE decision also confirms that this was never an educational programme, nor an opportunity to consolidate learning, but was always an overt attempt to introduce cut-price, yellow-pack nursing posts into our health service.’

Under the Government proposals new nurses would earn 22,000 euro (approx 30,000 US$) compared to their colleagues who were recruited at 26,000 euro (approx 35,000 US$). The contracts were to last for only 2 years. The average industrial wage in Ireland in 2012 was just under 42,000 euro (57,000 US$) according to the Central Statistics Office.

By any measure these rates of pay would show nursing to be a very poorly paid job for highly trained graduates to take up in Ireland. Yet their work is crucial to just about every citizen of the country.

by Michael Green
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Irish Emigration At Highest Level Since The Famine

The tragedy of Irish emigration continues unabated. Over 46,500 Irish people emigrated from Ireland in the year up to April 2012. The rate of emigration is the highest in Ireland since the Great Famine in the middle of the nineteenth century.



The devastating recession and austerity measures being imposed in Ireland have made work very hard to come by. Unemployment remains above 14% in Ireland and at over 11% in the Eurozone. Little wonder then that so many Irish citizens are flocking to places like Canada, Australia and America.

More than half of the 6,350 working visas to Canada available to Irish people during 2013 have been taken up in the space of just a few days. Demand for the 2-year work-travel visas has been especially high as Canada is crying out for skilled workers in certain parts of the country. The high cost of living in Canada and particularly in the major cities such as Toronto and Vancouver has not put off the hordes of mostly younger Irish people who continue to escape from their recession-hit homeland.

by Michael Green
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