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Paul Sweeney: Give Glasgow a St Patrick's Day Parade

TODAY we celebrate St Patrick’s Day, which for cities across the world has evolved into a global celebration of the Irish diaspora.

The links between Ireland and Scotland run deep. This ancient Celtic connection predates the existence of the two modern nations and nowhere in Scotland is that more evident than in Glasgow.

As a result of the mass migration to our city during the Industrial Revolution and tragically amplified by the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor, of the 1840s, we have one of the largest Irish diasporas in the world.

In the 180 years since tens of thousands were forced to make that journey during the Great Famine, their descendants have contributed enormously to our city’s social fabric, our cultural heritage and our industrial and economic prosperity. They were the people who dug the sewers, laid the railway tracks, and built the great Victorian buildings that characterise the city around us today.

Those who made the trip across the Irish Sea tended to settle in port cities like Glasgow, Liverpool and Cardiff. Those who moved further afield headed to the American port cities of New York and Boston or inland to Chicago, Toronto or even as far afield as Australia.

Regardless of their religion or destination, there was one thing that unified them – they had been forced by economic hardship and famine to leave their homeland and were hopeful of creating a better life through the opportunities for work that these fast growing industrial cities provided.

St Patrick’s Day is now widely celebrated by these cities as a cornerstone of their civic and cultural calendar.

In America, New York sees more than two million people gather every year to watch the largest parade of its kind anywhere in the world, while for the past 60 years Chicago has marked the occasion by dyeing the Chicago River bright green.

Closer to home, London plays host to the second largest St Patrick’s Day parade in the world, while on the opposite side of the globe Sydney turns iconic landmarks like the Opera House green to pay tribute to its Irish communities.

The annual festivities don’t just confine themselves to countries traditionally associated with Irish immigration. Indeed Singapore, Buenos Aires and Auckland now host annual parades attracting tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of participants and observers.

Yet despite our close geographic proximity to Ireland, our deep connection to Irish society and the overwhelming prevalence of an Irish diaspora in our city, Glasgow has never held an official civic St Patrick’s Day parade.

I think it is massive opportunity we are missing as a city and one that we should now address.

Rather than celebrating our common heritage and that which brings us together, or recognising the global perspective of such an event, policymakers in the City Chambers are more inclined to pander to ignorant and parochial nay-sayers.

That narrow outlook is symptomatic of contemptuous attitudes that have historically existed in our city since the time of the Great Famine itself. They reflect the same tropes that are deployed today against new immigrants to our city; that they will undermine workers’ wages, that they are ill-educated or that they threaten the established community in Scotland.

In truth the historic reality was that they shared a common bond with working-class Scots, taking a leading role in the emerging trade union and wider labour movement that has done so much to improve our society over the last century.

Predictably, whenever suggestions like Glasgow hosting a St Patrick’s Day parade are made, they solicit the same negative responses which focus on the potential downsides of what is essentially a civic celebration.

Lazy stereotypes are all too often banded around as an excuse for inaction. In many ways, it is symbolic of the struggle faced by Irish communities in generations gone by, and by other minority communities today.

Then, it was commonplace to see signs in pub windows and advertisements for rental properties warning that the Irish were not welcome. While you are unlikely to see such flagrant discrimination today, minority communities are still targeted by those who seek to divide the very fabric of our society and the pillars on which this country has been built.

The dog whistle politics directed at people seeking asylum is a modern-day example of the discrimination experienced by our Irish ancestors.

As we overcame the hostility that was hysterically whipped-up against Irish immigrants, we will overcome this modern-day equivalent.

For it is a continuous cycle that we need to break, and I believe that a civic celebration like a St Patrick’s Day parade is just one way that we could celebrate our city’s cultural diversity.

I am not naïve in thinking that the suggestion of a St Patrick’s Day parade is a panacea that will solve the historic problems that exist in communities across the west of Scotland, but it is as good a place to start as any.

Because fundamentally, I believe we have more in common than that which divides us.

The bond between Ireland and Scotland has existed for centuries and immigration has improved our city immeasurably.

We should be proud that we are a diverse city, it is an indisputable fact and one that we should be keen to celebrate.

You can read my column on the Glasgow Times website here: Paul Sweeney: Give Glasgow a St Patrick's Day Parade | Glasgow Times


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