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Ireland 2by Gerard Walsh for Saugeen Shores Hub

As Groucho Marx might say “Irish history is a thing of the past”. So with St Patrick’s Day just round the corner, let’s take a little ramble through Irish history.

We can start with the man himself. By all accounts, St Patrick lived during the first part of the 5th century. He was not from Ireland at all. He was an Englishman who had been kidnapped by a band of Irish slave owners and brought to Ireland where he minded sheep. He eventually escaped and went back to England. However, he soon realized that even taking the slave experience into account, Ireland was a much better place. So he went back to Ireland where he became an expert in weed (shamrock) and reptile management (snakes).

Several hundred years later an Irish fellow called Brendan obviously lost his way on the high seas and drifted all the way from Ireland to what may have been the island of Newfoundland. As with St Patrick, he didn’t think it was as nice as Ireland, so he went back home quickly. Having been given up for dead, the Irish were surprised to have him back and immediately declared him a saint. Fast forward many centuries, and the people of Newfoundland have honoured him – not with a statue or street name, but by imitating his accent.

The Irish have always had a peculiar kind of relationship with kings and monarchies in general. Granted, the English gave them ample opportunities to form an opinion so when England became a republic in the middle of the 17th Century, the Irish didn’t know what to do. It must have been a godsend when the English changed their mind and eventually, by about 1690, they had not one, but two kings – James and William. The Irish solution was to support both kings and there was a great battle between them all in Ireland in 1690. So one could say that the Irish won and lost, and into the bargain they did get a mid-summer holiday out of it. Nevertheless, the Irish have been a bit hesitant on monarchies ever since.

So putting all this aside, the Irish then decided to lead from the back of the pack. It’s not well known, but there is only one person mentioned by name in the English National Anthem. He appears in the rarely sung sixth verse of God Save the King: “Lord, grant that Marshal Wade, May, by thy mighty aid... And, like a torrent, rush, Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King”. Marshall George Wade was born in Westmeath, Ireland and here we have him crushing the “rebellious Scots”. I think we may need the likes of him back again. Around the same time, the English came up with a wonderfully complicated flag otherwise known as the Union Jack. By this stage I believe that they finally acknowledged that St Patrick was probably right after all, because to this day the Saltire of St Patrick is used as the red diagonal stripes in the flag.

As with any great nation, the English got into a spot of bother from time to time. In and around 1815, a French fellow called Napoleon (who wasn’t even born in France) had virtually conquered Europe, kind of like Angela Merkel today. Again as today, the English were beside themselves with worry. So they beseeched the Irish for a solution. The Irish sent them a Dubliner (not one of the musicians) called Arthur Wellesley (who eventually became the Duke of Wellington) and he sorted out Napoleon and his ilk.

While England was cavorting around the world in such far off places as Van Diemen’s Land, Timbuctoo, and the Rupert’s Land, the Irish were as busy as bees developing a ship building industry. Eventually they designed and built the mother of all ships and gave it the superior sounding name of the Titanic. It was the most opulent and luxurious ship ever built. Everything was of optimum design from the pumps, the engines, and the hull. The world finally had a ship that was impossible to sink. Only a fool with a penchant for ill luck would load it with life boats. The only thing that wasn’t considered in its design was the fact that an Englishman would be in charge for its maiden voyage. I have no doubt, that if a Paddy Murphy from Kerry or a Billy Robinson from Antrim was in charge, this ship would still be afloat.

Based on the rotation of the sun, Dublin is 25 minutes behind London. So in October 1916, when His Majesty’s Government decided to standardize time and proclaimed Greenwich, London as point zero on the time clock, the Irish were having none of it. The idea had been soft pedalled from London since about 1880, but it became more acute when telegraphic communication started to make the world a smaller place. Irish MPs in the House of Commons denounced the idea as impractical and said it was a deliberate attempt by the English to reduce the daylight in the work day in Ireland. Enter the parish priests, who declared that they would establish the time according to God’s will and the position of the sun, and they would proclaim it to the community by the peel of the church bells at noon. Official Ireland eventually relented and agreed to accept Greenwich Time. However, the parish priests persisted for many years and there were discrepancies in times all over Ireland.

So how would the world be without the Irish? For starters St Patrick would have had to live out his life in some place like Coventry or Sheffield. The people of Newfoundland would be talking like the people of Ontario. There would be no mid-summer holiday. The English National Anthem would be missing its much loved sixth verse. The Union Jack would be just another piece of cloth without the red stripes. The French (i.e. not Angela) would be in charge of Europe including England... And what if the English didn’t exist? The Titanic would still be afloat. All the clocks in the world would be set 25 minutes later, to DMT (or Dublin Mean Time).

Yes, Ireland is the centre of the universe.

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