Shamrock, Tayto and a trip to the Irish centre:  MPs share their most memorable St Patrick’s Day

Shamrock, Tayto and a trip to the Irish centre: MPs share their most memorable St Patrick’s Day

WHEN the House of Commons is sitting members of parliament from across Britain get busy representing their constituents.

Theirs is the business of policy making, law-guiding and debating the societal rules that govern us all.

They raise the issues that affect those living in their constituencies, a role some of them have held for many years.

Away from their day job, however, they have lives of their own, which for many boasts an Irish background that they are also keen to represent.

Historically, this part of their identity came to the forefront for many during an historic debate on the Irish Diaspora in Britain which was held in the House of Commons on St Patrick’s Day 2022.

That revealed the very strong Irish connections of many MPs, not least the late Tony Lloyd.

The former Labour MP for Rochdale, who passed away in January, sponsored the debate and began the discussion by stating: “Most of us will have some Irish roots in our heritage.

“It is not uncommon, and it is something we are all proud of.”

He added: “The Irish who came here contributed to our society in more ways than we can possibly cover. I am pleased that we have this debate today to give it recognition.”

What followed was a public outpouring of Irish affirmation by MPs from across the political spectrum.

From Labour’s Jon Cruddas, Karin Smyth and Rebecca Long-Bailey to the Conservatives’ James Daly and Maria Caulfield and the Scottish National Party’s Martin Docherty-Hughes, there were lengthy insights into the Irishness of their upbringing across the country.

It showed the influence of the diaspora in Westminster was strong, and encouragingly revealed their understanding of the important contribution the Irish community has made to life in Britain over many decades.

This year, as we all prepare to share in the annual celebrations, we asked those MPs to tell us about their most memorable St Patrick’s Day to date…

Rebecca Long-Bailey - Labour party MP for Salford and Eccles, whose family roots lie in Galway

Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour MP for Salford and Eccles

“St Patrick’s Day celebrations are like nothing else.

A bit like the feeling of waking up on Christmas day with the whole excitement of the day ahead.

Down the years the tradition was  - if you were not at school or work that day - to have a full Irish breakfast, get your best gear on, because you never knew who you were going to bump into that you hadn’t seen for ages, and then my parents and the whole family would make our way down to the Irish Centre in Manchester to listen to the music and have a good chat.

Also, important before you went home was making a trip to the Irish centre shop to get: a fresh soda bread, sausages, bacon, black and white pudding, a bottle of Cidona and some Kimberly biscuits.

My most memorable St Pat’s, however, was whilst visiting family in Galway many years ago. The day began early, and involved visiting all the people you knew right across the city in every bar you can possibly think of.

This lasted many, many hours and then we all headed back to my aunty Josephine’s for the obligatory bacon joint sandwiches and these Galway ‘delicacies’ called crubeens that my uncle Richard lovingly makes every year - it’s an acquired taste, you will have to google it.

Then we sang songs until the sun came up because it’s a big thing in our wider family that when the generations get together, we all have to do a turn singing a song each, whether we want to or not.”

Martin Docherty-Hughes - Scottish National Party MP for West Dunbartonshire, whose roots lie in Donegal

Martin Docherty-Hughes, SNP MP for West Dunbartonshire

“As a child of the 1970’s, St Patricks day certainly didn’t resemble the carnival atmosphere of today.

There wasn’t a pint of stout in sight nor a blow-up saint being taken from pub to pub.

St Patrick’s day in Clydebank was certainly a more religious affair, especially for those of us who are Catholic given it is a holy day of obligation in Scotland.

Like most people with Irish roots in Clydebank, the Doherty’s are Donegal folk from Stralongford.

With many of the family heading to the USA in the early 1900’s, my grandfather came to Scotland where he met our grandmother, Sarah Timlin of Ballinglen, Mayo.

There are still lots of the family in Letterkenny and Ballinglen, indeed a cousin Councillor Jimmy Kavanagh was even Mayor of Letterkenny from 2021 till 2022.

Politics must be a family thing.”

Maria Caulfield - Conservative MP for Lewes, whose parents moved to England from Ireland in the 1950s

Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes

“As a child, like most children in Irish families in London, I spent my evenings and weekends going to Irish Dancing classes or a Feis.

I wasn’t particularly good and it was long before Riverdance so it was not very glamourous. One of my most memorable St Patrick’s Days was when our school of dancing was asked to perform for a big St Patrick’s Day dinner at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

It was very exciting as most of us had never been to such a posh place before and we got a standing ovation from all the dinner guests.

Most other St Patrick’s Days were not quite so exciting and just involved us wearing some shamrock to school.

We used to get sent some shamrock from my aunts in Ireland with some Tayto crisps - but it was just cheese and onion in those days - and Kimberley biscuits, so me and my brother always looked forward to this each year.”

Conor McGinn - Labour Mp for St Helen’s North, who hails from Newry in Co. Armagh

Conor McGinn, Labour MP for St Helens North

"St Patrick’s Day is very special to me and, I think, all Irish people living in Britain.

I’ve celebrated St Patrick’s Day with Presidents in the White House, Prime Ministers in Parliament, winners at Cheltenham at even Grand Slam victors in Twickenham.

But my fondest memory of any St Patrick’s Day took place not in exalted surroundings or company, but in the best places with the best people.

My children were babies and we were living in north London. I’d already been to Cheltenham earlier in the week and had taken part in the various festivities in Trafalgar Square the preceding Sunday.

It was a rare March 17 when I had no plans or obligations.

I dressed the kids - and myself - in green, put our sprigs of shamrock on and we went to Mass in Archway.

After a hearty fried breakfast on the Holloway Road, the children were safely despatched to nursery with their mam before she came back to join the festivities.

There then followed for me that life-affirming first pint of Guinness with my old Donegal friend Denis McDaid in the Park Tavern, supped over a leisurely read of the Irish Independent and the Racing Post.

I traversed Camden Town to visit my alpha and omega, The Sheephaven Bay, to meet up with my since sadly deceased great friend James Winston and my wonderful aunt Eileen McGeeney and some other friends.

I always remember Winston - a staunch Ulster Protestant - spotting a newly hung Derry City scarf on the wall.

He proclaimed loudly “Where are the other six letters, you’re missing L-O-N-D-O-N!”

It set the tone for an afternoon of merciless slagging, entertainment and sport.

We had a few winners, sang a few songs, sank a few pints and I was home for bedtime - mine and the kids’!

It was special because it was simple, it was spent with people I care about and who care about me and isn’t that what being Irish on St Patrick’s Day - or any other day - is all about.”