“Why do the Mexicans have a public holiday for St Patrick’s Day?” I thought. Obviously, they don’t. Today’s bank holiday is actually to celebrate the birthday of Mexican hero Benito Juárez which is on the 21st of March, but the Mexicans, loving to party as they do (not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but the Mexicans do love to party), move the ‘bridge’ to make it a long weekend. It’s no surprise that people generally behave more patriotically towards their home nation when they’re away from home, but I couldn’t tell you when St. George’s Day is, or anyone English who celebrates it abroad. St. Patrick’s Day, however, is celebrated all over the world: perhaps because of the incredibly high emigration rate, but perhaps just as much because people love paddies and paddies love to get pissed, so St. Patrick’s Day has become an ode to good times and Guinness.
Despite being in many ways about as English as they come, I have long considered Ireland as my spiritual home. Like about 70% of the English population (or so it would seem) I am half Irish, and I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in County Cork in the last twenty five years – the entirety of my lifetime. There’s a majestic beauty in the sweeping landscape of Cork and Kerry, and it just feels like everything I love about Ireland is soaked deep into the mountains.
Local tradition states that St. Finbarr walked from the Top of the Rock in Drimoleague to Gougane Barra in the 6th century, and people have continued to follow this pilgrim path ever since. As well as the spiritual aspect of this ancient route, it boasts spectacular views over Bantry Bay and the West Cork coastline. It offers an immense sense of restfulness, and whatever your religion or nationality, and wherever you are, I strongly believe that spending a little time every now and again in simple contemplation works wonders for the soul. Living far away from home in a completely different culture gives a great opportunity to reflect on life from a new perspective: on our customs, thoughts, values and actions, by looking from the outside in and all around. This is what anthropologists like to call ‘reflexivity’.
I would like to share my favourite poem that helps me to feel at peace with the present, something that I have found the Mexicans to place great emphasis on. It is short and powerful, and I never tire of reading it, often over and over again in one sitting.
St Finbarr’s Hermitage – Gougane Barra
The peace of God enfolds it
And he who tarries there
Shall find a heaven for his eyes,
And in his heart, a prayer.
But he who hurries onwards
May search the world in vain
And never find before he dies,
Such peace on earth again.
After reading it I close my eyes, visualise what peace feels and looks like, and simply breathe. I’m not religious, and for me it’s not the peace of God that I feel but the beauty of life and the natural world. Sometimes it comes more easily than others. Living in Mexico brings frequent waves of joy; it’s an incredible experience and I have so much to be grateful for. So for today I’ll be swapping salud for sláinte in a toast to St. Finbarr, and enjoying this moment of absolute contentment.