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Gary Gems – January Ski and Contrition Edition

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Gary O’Blair’s Gems – We’re All a Wee Bit Irish on March 17th

Ah, March, or as I sometimes refer to it, “Mud Month”. In my area of the globe, it usually starts with a snowstorm or two followed by wild fluctuations in temperature. I am so tired of dirty snow and mucky boots by the middle of the month that I crave anything green. Anything – clothes, cocktails (Does anyone have a recipe for green Cosmos?). But not like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am.

Then along comes our green knight on a horse, Saint Patrick to the rescue. With his arrival, everything turns green, our buildings and monuments, our beer and even, in the case of Chicago, our rivers.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, no matter who you are, where you come from, or whether your name is Tom, Lars or Uri, you’re Irish for the day so feel free to pin your “Kiss Me I’m Irish” button on your lapel.

I don’t remember if I ever told you this, but I thought and took a great deal of pride in thinking I was part Irish for a very long time. I went around telling friends that Blair is an Irish name. I was a tad embarrassed when I learned that “Blair” is actually a very common Scottish name. It’s as Scottish as a haggis sandwich and the Loch Ness Monster. Quick pivot and now I look forward to wearing my very own Blair tartan – maybe even as a kilt.

St. Patrick’s Day is a much bigger celebration in North America than in Ireland where it is seen as more a religious holiday.  If you’re not Irish and live in Montreal, Boston and New York and others, you get to be an honourary Leprechaun for the day.

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m an enthusiastic holiday cheerleader. Even now when the office is nearly empty because most are working from home, I still decorate for special occasions.  These so-called Hallmark holidays give us an opportunity to break our routine and have a little fun. Can you believe it, people think these “commercial” holidays like St.Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day are disruptions. While not really holidays like Easter and Christmas, I see these “lesser” events as “Fundays” that are a welcome disruption of our routines. If a funny hat and a plastic shillelagh bring a smile to someone, it’s a day worth celebrating.

Gary O'Blair's Gems - We're All a Wee Bit Irish on March 17th

My parents grew up in Griffintown. This could be another reason I thought I had green beer flowing in my veins.

Griffintown was the industrial centre of Canada in the mid-nineteenth century due in large part to the building of the Lachine Canal that enabled ships to bypass the Lachine Rapids on their way to the great lakes. I now live in a converted factory overlooking the canal. The view today is vastly different.

Griffintown still exists but is unrecognizable as it’s been converted into a densely populated condo village. I wonder if the predominately young residents are aware that the ground below their apartments, their gyms, their pools, was once the site of worker shacks, fever sheds, and graves of the hundreds of Irish fleeing famine in Ireland. Between 1847-1848, six-thousand Irish immigrants died of typhus due to unsanitary conditions in the overcrowded ships. It comes as no surprise to me that Montreal has the oldest Saint Patrick Day parade in North America having mounted its first in 1824.


Gary O'Blair's Gems - We're All a Wee Bit Irish on March 17th

If I were actually Irish, I’d take every opportunity to raise a glass once a year in salute to the families, who in large part, built the Lachine canal that contributed to Montreal’s and Canada’s affluence – affluence that didn’t reach those who created it. Plus ça change.

I sometimes wonder why it is that communities that seem to suffer the most in history seem to have such thriving cultures and a sense of humour. The Irish, for instance, have a very dark sense of humour. Wakes could easily be confused for comedy clubs.

Example of Irish humour.

Paddy was sad after viewing the body of his friend Paddy, an atheist. “There he was. All dressed up and no place to go.”

Gary O'Blair's Gems - We're All a Wee Bit Irish on March 17th

Pete was walking through a graveyard when de came across a headstone with the inscription “Here lies a politician and an honest man.”

“Faith now,” exclaimed Pete, “I wonder how they got the two of them in one grave.”

Gary O'Blair's Gems - We're All a Wee Bit Irish on March 17th

Speaking of names, the Irish tradition of the last name prefix “Mac” refers to “Son of ..” and the prefix “O” refers to “Grandson of ..” So if you want to be Irish for the day, attach a “Mac” or an “O” in front of your family name.

May the road rise up to meet you and the wind be at your back.

Gary O’Blair.

Gary O'Blair's Gems - We're All a Wee Bit Irish on March 17th

Now, if you haven’t had the thrill of attending a St. Paddy’s Day Parade, especially in Montreal, then here’s a peek at our 190th parade brought to you by none other than Rick Mercer. 

After you finished watching, there’s a Pot O’ Golden Gems awaiting ya.

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