Life

Lynette Fay: A week and a weekend to proudly celebrate Irish culture and language

Seachtain na Gaeilge places particular emphasis on the Irish language – schools, broadcasters, sporting organisations, all walks of life encourage us to use whatever Irish we have. Given recent political debates, it's refreshing to see the language celebrated in this way

A St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin – March is the month when Irish culture, music and language take centre stage globally

HAIL Glorious Saint Patrick! March 17 has arrived. The world turns green and millions celebrate their Irish heritage. The rest of the world wants to be Irish.

I sang a lot when I was younger and I loved St Patrick's Day. Bizarrely, March 17 brought two of my great loves together; singing and Irish. A small group of girls from school sang at 9.30 Mass, which was celebrated as Gaeilge. I now know that the songs we learned for Mass were from the west Cork composer Sean Ó Riada's Aifreann Gaeilge, Irish-language Mass, which is a work of art. This was the only day of the year that I didn't have to be pushed out the door to go to Mass.

However happy in the gallery of St Patrick's, Dungannon, singing my heart out, I was very envious of my brother. He was in the scouts so he got to put on his uniform and along with his fellow cubs and scouts and march in the parade through Dungannon town from the Scout Hall to the chapel. To me, this was the ultimate honour on the most Irish of days.

There was a parade in Dungannon a few times. That was a big deal for us to have this in our home town. Most years we went to see the parade in Armagh. Hail, rain or snow, we were there, to watch the floats and listen to the pipe bands – which I love.

I will be in Armagh again this year – to MC the parade. Armagh's parade is fantastic. All pockets of the rich fabric of our society are represented and celebrated. I really enjoy seeing so many families together, celebrating, and it's all about the children.

March is the month when Irish culture, music and language take centre stage globally. It's the busiest month of the year for traditional musicians and for anyone who works with the Irish language.

For the last number of years Conradh na Gaeilge, The Gaelic League, has used the run-up to St Patrick's Day to promote the language. Seachtain na Gaeilge places particular emphasis on the Irish language during this time – schools, broadcasters, sporting organisations, all walks of life encourage us to use whatever Irish we have during the week.

Given recent political debates, as an Irish speaker, it's refreshing to see the language celebrated in this way.

During March I travel the length and breadth of Ulster, hosting events, gala dinners. This year I hosted the BBC St Patrick's Night Concert (tune in tonight, 9pm BBC 2 and BBC Radio Ulster); I also visited schools and presented fáinní – a small circular badge, which, when worn denotes ability to speak Irish. It's a busy month, but great to be part of this celebration.

New York and Dublin host arguably the biggest St Patrick's Day parades in the world. I've experienced both. I broadcast Blas, BBC Radio Ulster's Irish language magazine, live from New York a number of years ago. There is a lot of love for Irish in the Big Apple. I remember speaking to a Russian man who taught the Irish language in the Irish Arts Centre in the city. I also spoke to a Monaghan woman, Caitríona Balfe, who at the time was a well known model. We spent summers together learning Irish in Rann na Feirste, Co Donegal.

This week, while hosting an event, I was reminiscing on those days and decided to send a tweet to Caitríona. She replied. I received notifications for days as her fans retweeted and contacted me.

Caitríona has been nominated as best actress at the Golden Globes three times for her role as Clare Frazer in the fantasty drama series Outlander. She recently commented that herself and Maria Doyle Kennedy speak as much Irish as possible on the set of Outlander.

St Patrick's Day is also a huge sporting day – traditionally the finals of the McLarnon Cup, the McCrory Cup, the Schools Cup, All Ireland Club hurling and football are played today.

There's another big fixture today: Ireland take on England in Twickenham in the final match of this year's Six Nations. I don't profess to know much about rugby, but I will be supporting the boys in green come 2.45.

Beannachtaí na féile Pádraig oraibh – enjoy your day, wherever are.

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