The 17 march, Ireland celebrates its patron saint and, across the world, the Irish diaspora raise their glasses in honor of Patrick. While Dublin's most spectacular festivities take place, Downpatrick celebrates for ten days, March 10-20, in honor of the great Irish man. And for good reason: Saint Patrick is buried in this small town, cradle of Irish Christianity, which is ... in Northern Ireland. A land where the legacy of Saint Patrick is claimed by Irish people of all faiths.
The pride of the Land of Down, Northern Ireland
Ironically, Saint Patrick's Day, celebrated on the same day as the Irish National Day, rests in British territory. Indeed, according to legend, the man is buried in Ulster in a cemetery in Downpatrick, capital of County Down. No one knows for sure if his skeleton is really under the large slab that bears his name. But history has retained that he died in 461 in Saul, a few kilometers from Downpatrick, after having evangelized Ireland.
County Down is also full of traces of Patrick's passage in the XNUMXth century. And Downpatrick, fittingly, has opened an interesting museum dedicated to him. Housed in a stunning glass and slate building, the St Patrick Visitors' Center is home to a multimedia exhibit about this famous Irishman born in Scotland, who led a life as a backpacker evangelizer.
True adventurer, Saint Patrick was kidnapped at sixteen by pirates, sold as a slave in Ireland, before taking refuge in the monasteries of Gaul and becoming the one who, in response to a divine call, converted the Irish people to Christianity. According to legend, Patrick explained the mysteries of the Trinity to the Irish with the help of a shamrock (which has since become the symbol of the country) and ... hunted the snakes of Ireland. We can say that he succeeded well, since there is not a single one left today on the green island!
Never canonized by Rome, Patrick does not owe his status as a saint to his art of charming reptiles, but to an indisputable popular will ... This shows if the Irish love him, and, particularly in Northern Ireland, where Saint Patrick is considered by Catholics to be the flagship of Irish identity.
One saint, two religions
But, here, nothing is simple: the Protestants of Ulster also claim the cultural and spiritual heritage of Saint Patrick. Their argument seems irrefutable: Patrick lived long before the schism between Catholicism and Protestantism. It would therefore not belong to any community.
Armagh, the nearby town of Downpatrick where Patrick founded his main church in 445, has become, for example, the seat of the Catholic and Protestant archbishoprics and the spiritual capital of Ireland. On the site of the first church founded by Saint Patrick today stands an Anglican church. On March 17, in Armagh, the Catholic and Anglican primates of Ireland traditionally say a service in their respective cathedral to celebrate their common patron saint. But, in Ulster, and in particular in Belfast, the celebrations are often subject to controversy between the two communities: for example the Catholics parade dressed in green, the Protestants in red.
Downpatrick, for his part, is organizing a festival that aims to be unifying and consensual. Last year, the city welcomed more than 10 dancers and band musicians representing the two main Northern Irish traditions: Gaelic and Irish-Scottish. The festival which takes place this year from March 20 to XNUMX, claims loud and clear as inter-community: it is the feast of all Irish people.
A festive ten-day marathon
And there is something to have fun ... Downpatrick has concocted a ten-day marathon, with a hundred events, including music concerts, plays (with, curiously, the adaptation of The Metamorphosis de Kafka by Steven Berkoff), games for children, hikes in the footsteps of Saint Patrick, pub evenings, bicycle and horse races, a fun fair, readings of traditional tales ... In case of exhaustion, don't worry: there's always a good Guinness at the local pub to quench your thirst and the beer is flowing.
Two concerts are eagerly awaited: on Thursday the 16th, that of the Celtic music group Blazin'Fiddles and, the following day, that of the popular singer Sean Kane. Finally, on March 17, St. Patrick's Day, the traditional parade brings together, in Downpatrick and Armagh, several thousand costumed people, floats and folk music groups, under the theme of youth, Downpatrick, and the life of Saint Patrick, in Armagh. Finally, not to anger anyone, neither green nor red will officially be the dominant colors. At Downpatrick, all the colors of Ireland come together in honor of the patron saint of all Irish. You can even find multicolored clovers there!
In the land of Saint Patrick, the good-natured, family and convivial celebration aims to make people forget the tensions of the community. It remains to be seen whether it will really succeed ... The backpacker passing through, for his part, will be able to appreciate the legendary joie de vivre and the hospitality of the Irish. And breathe a little of that peaceful air that floats over Northern Ireland, which has evolved since the historic peace agreement of April 10, 1998 between Catholics and Protestants.
Or sleep ?
- Denvir'sHotel: English Street, Downpatrick. Phone. 44) 28-44-61-20-12. Internet: www.denvirshotel.co.uk. On the street leading to the cathedral, one of Ireland's oldest horse lodges, open since 1642. Charming rooms at B&B rates (£ 55, or € 82) and a good restaurant with dishes from £ 7 (€ 11).
On the Web
- Complete program of the Saint Patrick's Day festival in Downpatrick: www.st-patricksdayfestival.com
- Downpatrick Tourist Office: www.downdc.gov.uk
- Saint Patrick Center: www.saintpatrickcentre.com