Happy St Patrick’s Day… in St Julian’s!

By my count, I’d say half a dozen strategically sited belfries would be enough to service the entire country: and OK, throw in another two to keep Mintoff’s ghost quiet

OK, let me start this off by declaring that I’m not a huge fan of fake, imported cultural traditions like ‘Halloween’ or ‘St Patrick’s Day’.

But hey, if it’s any consolation: I’m not exactly a huge fan of most of our own homespun traditions, either. Especially not the ones involving mass displays of public ‘exuberance’ (translation: everyone gets absolutely shitfaced) while making as much noise as humanly possible... which, as far as I can see (and hear), means pretty much all our local traditions, bar none.

Let’s face it. We’re a noisy bunch, at the end of the day. Not only do we invariably end up competing for decibel levels just to have an ordinary, everyday conversation at the grocer’s… but we also seem to only ever value only in terms of much noise they can possibly be used to make.

Conversely, if something is not associated with cacophony in any way… or, even worse, makes no sound of any kind whatsoever…. we automatically deem it to be worthless, if not downright undesirable. Heck, we even have an idiomatic expression to describe our national aversion/suspicion of all things silent and noiseless: ‘Mutu mutu, qrunu f’butu’ (and what a wonderful expression it is, too).

It explains an awful lot, if you ask me. Libraries, for instance. Ever paused to wonder why our national library is strategically located to be as well-hidden and off-the-beaten-track as possible? It’s too quiet, that’s why. It’s just full of books, signs saying ‘Silence Please’, and strict librarians going ‘Shhh!’ the whole time.

So not only does a library make no audible noise of its own… but its mere presence also demands a certain aura of silence from everyone else. What cheek! No wonder we’d do our utmost try and hide a perversion like that somewhere our children will never, ever get to see it…  

Church bells, on the other hand…. Church bells are loud. And in Malta, that also means ‘Church bells are GOOD’. So good, in fact, that we have plenty more of them than a tiny island like this would even need, if the objective was to simply to ‘tell the time without the aid of any clock, watch or mobile phone’.

And that, I might add – alongside maybe sounding the alarm in case of a pirate attack (or perhaps drowning out speeches by certain anti-clerical politicians) – was what ‘church bells’ were originally designed to do in the first place.

By my count, I’d say half a dozen strategically sited belfries would be enough to service the entire country: and OK, throw in another two to keep Mintoff’s ghost quiet. That’s eight in total. But no. We have to have literally thousands of belfries, in every nook and cranny of the entire island… for the same reason that we need well over 500 Churches and chapels to ring all the bells from.

It’s not to ‘tell the time’, is it? No, it’s just to make noise… and even then, to compete with all the other bells making noise at the same time.
It’s pretty the same everywhere else you look (I mean, listen). Band-clubs compete with other band-clubs; fireworks factories with fireworks factories, jackhammers with jackhammers… even motorists stuck in a traffic jam will resort to a game of ‘who can sound the horn loudest’ (because, of course, it is a widely known fact that all conceivable traffic obstructions simply dissolve into nothing, the moment enough cars all toot their horns at the same time…).

Tooting of horns: there’s also that other homespun tradition of ours, the typical Maltese ‘carcade’. There seems to be an unspoken rule here, whereby things like ‘The Highway Code’ – which sets limits on how many people you can cram into your Mini Minor; when and how to sound your horn; when to use (and not to use) your hazard lights; how much alcohol you are allowed imbibe before driving… you know, all that sort of stuff – just get thrown out of the window for 48 hours, every time Italy or England wins a football match in the World or European Cup.

Amazing, I’ve always thought, how the performance of 22 foreign footballers – in a game played overseas, as part of a tournament for which Malta has never, ever qualified – can have the instant effect of suspending the implementation and enforcement of an entire chunk of Malta’s legal code…

But there you have it: I’ve only mentioned a few examples, and already a discernible pattern swims into view. As a rule, we tend to get deliriously drunk and noisy, only when celebrating other people’s successes or victories. Never when celebrating anything that we can justifiably call our own…

In football, at least, I suppose it’s more or less understandable. Malta would be a dreary, joyless place indeed, if we only ever celebrated our own national triumphs on the football field. But as far as I can see, that’s about the only exception that can be justified. What excuse do we have for celebrating other countries’ national holidays more than our own? (When we have no fewer than five of them to celebrate, and everyone else only has their measly one?)

Anyway. All this builds up to that business I mentioned earlier about St Patrick’s Day. It explains why we only ever choose the loudest and most chaotic international festivities to simply appropriate, and turn into our own; and even then… we somehow succeed in making it louder and more chaotic than any version ever seen in, say, Dublin or County Cork… by which time, it sort of ceases to resemble anything that can realistically be described as ‘St Patrick’s Day’… and becomes just another, entirely meaningless excuse to get pissed.

OK, let’s start with our choice of location for this national, shitfaced celebration of an alien, imported festivity. As far as I can see, there is no natural contender… in the sense that (and I stand to be corrected) none of Malta’s myriad parish churches is actually dedicated to St Patrick.

Having said this, there is definitely one (non-parish) church dedicated to St Patrick that I know of… it’s in Sliema, says mass in English, and at least one of the priests I remember had an Irish surname. (McEwan, or something like that anyway…)

So that little corner of Sliema could, by rights, adopt St Patrick’s Day as its own local tradition… with a least a vague semblance of authenticity.

But we didn’t choose St Patrick’s in Sliema, did we? No, we chose… St Julian’s.

Erm… hate to bring it up now (after St Julian’s was buried under mountains of post 17 March garbage), but is it possible that no one has ever spotted the somewhat glaring contradiction there? I would have thought it’s bad enough that we celebrate Ireland’s national day in the first place… but that we also celebrate St Patrick’s Day… in St Julian’s?

The Two Ronnies would have a field-day with that, you know.   It’s even better than ‘Sheffield Wednesday lost on Thursday’. But I somehow doubt poor old St Julian himself would see the funny side of things. Looking at it from his perspective… well, around five times more people showed up for an immigrant upstart’s feast-day last Sunday, than to celebrate his own titular feast-day in July.

I shudder to imagine how disillusioned, betrayed and rejected St Julian must be feeling right now. I mean; accidentally killing your own mother and father is one thing… but this? This must be truly gut-wrenching….

But of course, absurdities like this always come in pairs (like band clubs competing with other band-clubs, remember? There can never ‘only be one’).  St Julian’s has a contender for the throne of St Patrick’s day venue par excellence: and it takes the form of… Floriana.

Now: despite my earlier misgivings, I can still more or less understand St Julian’s presumptions in this regard. Despite having no connection to St Paddy whatsoever… it is home to several Irish pubs (including at least one where most of the staff actually is Irish). Floriana’s claim, however, seems to be based uniquely on the fact that St Patrick’s Day is traditionally (being the patron saint of the ‘Emerald Isle’, and all that) associated with the colour green.

And… oh my, what an extraordinary coincidence… green is also the official colour of Floriana’s football team kit! Why, they’re even referred to as… ‘the Greens’! Well, that settles it, doesn’t it?   What other Maltese town or parish could possibly lay claim to the appropriation of St Patrick’s Day, on the basis of such valid, indisputable, colour-coded logic?

But then again… looking at St Julian’s on Monday, after ‘Hurricane Paddy’ tore through all its makeshift Guinness booths, and left great green mounds of tattered Leprechaun hats and Trefoil scarves everywhere you look… I can’t for the life of me see why any one would actually want to host that annual ‘Great Green Garbage-fest’ in the first place… 

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