It wasn’t until I moved abroad that I really started to appreciate St. Patrick’s Day. As an Irish person, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, March 17th is always a special day. But as Irish people, it is sometimes all too easy to take this day for granted. It’s always been around and someone else always makes it happen. It’s usually just a case of turning up and enjoying the festivities and talent that’s on your doorstep. For me, spending St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland involved playing music on a lorry somewhere and watching a parade, nothing that required too much effort or thought.
Since I’ve moved to Korea, I’ve taken on a whole other attitude to St. Patrick’s Day. It’s become more important and it’s the only day of the year that Irish all over Korea can come together and have the upper hand. We spend every other day of the year standing out. We talk differently, we look differently, we’re just foreign and we spend our days learning to adjust to the culture of Korea. But on March 17th, it’s our opportunity to show Korea our culture. We already know how the music sounds, we know the words to the songs and we even know the dancing.
As I randomly screamed the instructions at the over enthusiastic participants at the festival on Saturday I thought about how I probably wouldn’t be doing it at home. Everyone at home knows the Siege of Ennis and I can’t remember the last time there was an outdoor Ceili type thing in the festivities in Roscrea.
The other side to this is that is takes more to make St. Patrick’s Day happen abroad. Many of the regular readers of this blog know that I do a little volunteering for the Irish Association of Korea, the group that organise the festivities here. In Ireland, I never got involved with making a parade happen or any of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities for that matter. There was always someone else to make it happen. But here I was in Korea, motivated by the thought that if I wasn’t going to help organise St. Patrick’s Day, who would? It doesn’t just happen like it happens at home. And so followed weeks of endless emailing, negotiating, planning, meeting and waking up in the middle of the night with another idea to write in the notebook you keep beside your bed for this exact reason.
It was a case of finding musicians and dancers and bands, they don’t hang around here like they do in Ireland. Like everything worth doing it takes time and effort and then, although you’ve publicised it and every expat knows it’s on you still wonder will anyone come. In Ireland, you’re guaranteed a crowd, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. In Seoul, there are a million other things people can do on that Saturday and you depend on them and their sense of Irish to come out and support the event.
So as I watched the people from all over dance to the Siege of Ennis, clap along to the music, come in fancy dress, dye their hair green and get involved in the craic that was, I realised how much more pride I take in the celebrations here. It’s a very humbling experience to see, not only Irish but Koreans and people from all over the world, join together in a city, millions of miles from Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s a video I took at the event on Saturday;