The secret of St Patrick’s Day success

Posted by Jan Braai on 18 June 2012

I have an ambitious goal, yet it’s one I believe South Africa can achieve within my lifetime: to see National Braai Day celebrated globally. National celebrations I draw inspiration from include Queen’s Day in the Netherlands and Australia Day in, you guessed it, Australia. These are events that bring a country to a standstill.

But if you had to single out one national day of celebration that tops them all (that is, until Braai Day becomes number one), it’s St Patrick’s Day. For that one day a year the world turns its focus on Ireland, a small country with a population of 4,5 million. Considering there are about 196 countries in the world and 365 days a year, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to believe we could reach a time where South Africa owns 24 September, with the whole world gathering around fires to braai.

And so I went to Ireland for a week-long celebration of the St Patrick’s Day festival, for what was essentially a research trip during which I took notes. My first note was that the Irish are incredibly friendly – I would label them the second-friendliest nation I’ve encountered after, well, us. While the weather isn’t great (take your K-Way jacket), Dublin is a fantastic city with more than 1 000 pubs serving local cuisine and beer, so it’s best to come hungry and thirsty.

The queue to enter the Guinness Storehouse on St Patrick’s weekend was longer than an ANC disciplinary process. Which brings me to the next point I noted: Guinness tastes different and better in Ireland than in South Africa. Theirs is made on site, while ours is brewed in Nigeria. Go to Ireland and test this for yourself, a few times.

On to Belfast, where a wall that divides the city in two still stands. There are 20 gates in this wall and most of them are open only during office hours. Since 1994, the nationalists and unionists have had a ceasefire, but they’re still not really friends. In 1995, Bill Clinton stayed at the Europa Hotel and in 2012 I slept there; it’s the most bombed hotel in the world, but hasn’t been attacked since 1993 so you should be okay if you decide to stay there too. Belfast is also where the Titanic was built and there is a new complex in the shipyard where the vessel stood for three years … before sinking after just 12 days at sea.

From Belfast, drive to Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site. The route you take, the Coastal Causeway, is similar to driving around the Cape Peninsula, only greener and without sun.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ireland and it’s a great place to visit. Nonetheless, I think that in the long run National Braai Day will be bigger than St Patrick’s Day.

They have drinking Guinness and we have lighting fires and braaing; they have the shamrock (three-leaf clover) and we have the national flag (admit it, our flag is awesome); they have rain and we have sun. But none of this is as conclusive as the fact that we have 10 times their population – and everybody knows that more people means bigger parties.
(Photograph by Stephanus Rabie)

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