Today is Good Friday: one of the most important days on the Christian calendar when two millennia or so ago tradition has it that Christ was crucified on the cross. The way we approach this day in Ireland speaks volumes of the character and nature of the Irish approach to religion. There has been a ban in our Republic for 89 years on the selling of alcohol on Good Friday. We are a very pious sort of people you see and there is a will to be religious ingrained in our bones. The comedy of the Irish religious spirit however is that, while famously, at times infamously, Catholic, our religious spirit is still inherently and magnificently pagan. So it goes here every year that yesterday, Good Thursday, is the most lucrative of the year for off licenses (the places you go to buy booze). People literally queue in order to stockpile alcohol for the horror of that one day of the year when you can’t go out and get more. There is a great fear of a shortage. As well as this there is a loophole that alcohol can be sold at sporting clubs which as I understand it started a few years back with a big rugby match where it was imperative to our success that we should be able to have sink a pint or two. So basically there are two approaches to this momentous day: people either stockpile alcohol the day before or else exploit a loophole to get around the law. So here we have the two sides of the Irish religious spirit. We are pious and proud of it in a sense; we resolutely stand by the ban of alcohol’s sale on this blessed day. We remain Catholic no matter how much we might increasingly turn to agnosticism and atheism (just as we have stayed Pagan no matter how long we have been Catholic). And so you have this contradictory approach to the whole business of being religious: we are proud that we don’t sell alcohol on Good Friday but we also make sure we stockpile and sneak a cheeky pint if we can. This facet of the Irish psyche has been captured beautifully in this poem Patrick Kavanagh called Pilgrims. What a beautifully contradictory and lively people we are though we are perhaps unaware of it indeed because we are unaware of it.

Pilgrims

I saw them kneeling by the holy well-
It was for life, life, life they prayed:
Life that for a farmer is land enough to keep two horses,
Life that is a healthy husband to a maid

I saw them climbing the holy mountain-
It was the knowledge, knowledge, knowledge of life they pursued:
Knowledge that is in knowing what fair to sell the cattle in,
Knowledge that is in being able to cart an acre from a field.

I saw them lying on the burning stones-
It was vision, vision, vision they desired:
Vision that is forecasting a mare’s hour of foaling,
Vision that is catching the idler, newly hired.

I saw them kneeling, climbing and prostrate-
It was love, love, love they found:
Love that is Christ green walking from the summer headlands
To His scarecrow cross in the turnip-ground.

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