Today is the 26th of March and St. Patrick’s Day was on the 17th March this year as always, it’s old news perhaps at this stage but the truth be told, it took me days to recover enough to write about it.
St. Patrick’s is the Irish national day, celebrating the man who allegedly drove the snakes out of Ireland and brought Christianity to the shores. That was around 432 A.D., the Irish don’t forget things in a hurry. So we are still celebrating. Not only that but it goes way beyond the little island of Ireland. With around 60 million people dotted around the world who see themselves as Irish, that’s a lot of people celebrating the lack of snakes in Ireland on St. Patrick’s day.
In my first 2 years here in Oslo, I didn’t discover the Irish. I neither thought to look for them nor ran in to them by happenstance. Here I was with my little family; a German, an Irish and 2 kids born in London. I was used to building a network through work mainly when I moved somewhere. I moved city, found work and then found a life, in that order. Then I moved to Oslo and I had no work so there was a bit of a gap, I suppose you could call it a gaping chasm.
It was also the first time we had moved with kids and in many ways, it is easier then as you meet people through their everyday activities. So playground visits, drop-off, pick-up, parent meetings, became opportunities to stumble through early stage Norwegian as people nodded in a confused haze before fading subtly from view. Ah those were the days. Those frequently still are the days.
I’ve never been a great one for joining the “expat clubs” when I moved somewhere. The whole idea that you are pitched together with people due to a common source rather than common views or interests always seemed a bit risky to me. Wouldn’t it be a bit bleak if I were to meet a group of Irish? Wouldn’t we talk about the pros and cons in the wrong order, the great soft rain versus the not-so-great big snow flakes, the tea versus the kakao, the talkative versus the sitting in silence types. It was a bit too risky for me, all I ever got from looking backwards for too long was a pain in my neck.
In spite of all of this, I did join one international expat group online before moving here, it was free and promised that I would never be without a friend again, even if I knew no-one here. It was worth a try surely, even if just to figure out what that meant. That led me to a ‘social gathering’ in a pub in Grønland one Saturday night after about 4 weeks here in Norway. They were a right mixed bunch, all foreign and living here in Norway. I got the sense that despite good jobs, many of them were living on the edges as opposed to any real immersion in Norwegian life. I left early. Once I finally managed to find the T-bane / train home after getting lost and realising that Google maps was not a good friend, I decided I’d forge my own path rather than just getting to know foreigners here with a foreign view on all things Norwegian.
Then I found the Irish community here by chance. The real ice-breaker involved an evening out drinking Guinness with a group of Irish women after Christmas last year. That was it, I realised that there was a world of warmth and wit there that I was being welcomed into if I was willing.
This year, there was a get together of many Irish on the evening of St Patrick’s, the 17th. We ended up in the main Irish pub in Oslo centre called The Dubliner, great fun and heaving at the joints with all of those Irish and friends of the Irish who were again celebrating what the great man did with with those snakes. Unbelievable how caring people are. And the Guinness was great too. We celebrated (i.e. drank) together with rigour, joy and attempted song every now and again when there was a lapse in conversation. Great craic.
Two days later on the 19th March was another great day of celebration of St Patrick, this time with a focus on family. The St Patrick’s Day parade, Oslo style, started at 12 noon sharp led by the Politi on horseback who opened up the route through the main pedestrian / shopping street of Karljohansgate. I carried a flag for my province in Ireland, Connacht and I felt an unexpected sense of pride and belonging. Even the local Irish wolfhounds were out in style, taking part in the parade and proving that the Irish have made their small mark on the world, man and beast.
Off we marched to Universitetsplassen. I realised quickly that I hadn’t read the fine print on the flag-carrying as the job extended to holding the flag on the podium right through the ceremony. We listened to rousing speeches from the Irish Ambassador, the Grand Marshal and others as well as beautiful Irish ballads and Irish dancing. I had a good vantage point to see the husband circling with the kids on the outskirts of the crowd, trying to keep them entertained. I got frantic waving from all sorts of angles as I stood there for my country.
I also realised that day I still have a lot to learn about Norwegian weather. It was 0 degrees that morning and I dressed in layers and a warm woolly coat. It felt like 20 deg in the blue skied baking sun as I stood still with my flag for 90 minutes, melting away in the gorgeous heat. It was a proud test of my patriotism to be sure.
After the parade, we had a family event in a local restaurant with food, chat, Irish dancing, singing and again the odd Guinness. With a clear Irish presence and focus, the event was also multi-cultural as there were of course so many Norwegian partners and Norwegian kids.
So I have now discovered and proudly become part of the Irish community here in Oslo. My preconceptions were wrong, it’s a small well-integrated Irish community. With just over 1,000 Irish all over Norway now, it’s not a huge group. The people I have met are proud of Norway and their integration into this country as well as being proud of their Irish roots. The snowflakes can never be too big here and the soft rain is grand too but it’s OK that it falls on us only when we return to Ireland as often as life permits.