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St Patrick's Day 2020 Message

Dear Friends,

“The past is another country; they do things differently there” – never has this quote seemed more apt than today, surely the most unusual Saint Patrick’s Day that most of us have ever experienced. These are certainly challenging, difficult and unpredictable times and we all need to ensure that we are following the official advice and guidance. Our embassy website is being updated regularly with links to all important advice and guidance. We are posting updates on our twitter account and the Travelwise App is also available to you 24/7. The embassy remains open but by appointment only and Irish citizens are welcome to contact us if in need of emergency assistance. We all now need to take great care, of ourselves and of one another and of our community. 

Part of that taking care includes minding our mental health, so it is important also not to forget all of the good things, in life and in each other. So in that spirit, let me wish you all a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. While not the one we would ever have wished it to be, it is nevertheless the 17th of March and a day when, traditionally, we mark and celebrate our Irishness, our culture and our friendship with the world. This year our Global Greenings of iconic sites may be fewer, due to restrictions and constraints, but the many that are still going ahead, including some here in Belgium, will shine as a beacon of that friendship, a symbol of hope and of the recovery and resurgence to come. We are very lucky - green is such a wonderful colour to have associated with our beautiful country and at this time of year, it reminds us that Spring is here and that the cycle of life continues. 

I have been keeping an eye and an ear out for positive, hopeful news in these troubled times and this morning I heard the lovely suggestion to plant some seeds today, to remind ourselves that the sun will still shine, rain will still fall (for sure in Ireland and Belgium!) and that the plants will continue to grow. There is still much to be grateful for and the daily practice of beginning each morning with three gratitudes, three things to be thankful for, is also a happier practice than looking first at social media, if possible. I know that many of us have to monitor, analyse or report on these developments very closely as part of our work but there is excellent medical advice from the HSE, the WHO and other reputable sources that we should use as much as possible to limit our consumption of negative news and we should certainly only take that news and guidance from official sources. It is all too easy to fall out of familiar routines into what I saw today referred to as “doom-surfing”. We are all probably far too addicted to our mobile devices anyway, even at the best of times. 

If it is possible for you to take a break from the news cycle, some other more relaxing things to do include, of course, reading a book – now, you would expect me to say that, wouldn’t you! No doubt, there are so many wonderful books in our “to read” piles so now is our chance! If you are stuck for ideas, we have shared a longlist of the latest Irish Embassy Book Club recommendations with you already and there will be more to come, I promise. We are also trying to think of a way to turn the Embassy Book Club virtual for a while and we will get back to you on that one…in the meantime, great new (and classic) reads are still available to order online from the many small local bookshops which have, very responsibly, closed due to the current constraints. This is a way to support them as small businesses in a tough time and the authors who are bringing our new books this year without the usual launches, as well as nourishing ourselves. Reading is a tonic and an escape. Reading aloud is soothing. If your eyes are tired and if you really need to relax, being read to is such a balm, so think about Audio Books on CD or Audible or from Borrow Box or similar Apps. As I heard an author say recently, there is something about being read to which takes us back to the comforts of childhood and if you are finding it difficult to get to sleep, a comforting voice in the background reading to you may be just the help you need. 

Music is also a joy and an inspiration at this time and far better to have on in the background on the radio if you need to take a break from the endless news cycle. Something I learned once which is useful to remember now is the idea of the Circle of Control. If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, it can be because you are focusing on many things which are outside of your personal control. Try instead to focus on those things that are inside that circle, for example, maintaining a healthy routine, ensuring you switch off and get enough sleep, opening the windows or going out to your terrace, balcony, garden, to get fresh air and sunlight, continuing to eat a healthy, balanced diet, reading and listening to music, exercising, dancing, laughing, reaching out to friends and family by phone and email and, in a fun way, on social media. As someone said today, even if there are many things you cannot do, you can still smile. Smiling makes us feel better, even if we have to fake it until we make it. 

I am asking people to try a Virtual Saint Patrick’s Day Green-Up today and put on a bit of green clobber for a twitter pic; let’s brighten up all our twitter feeds for a few hours. I decided to wear the green dress and brooch that I would have worn today if our Saint Patrick’s Day programme had been going ahead as planned, even if I am sitting at my keyboard, why not! We can still all be green in spirit and at heart. There are many similar virtual SPD initiatives taking place today, with calls for a global sing-song and a virtual parade – so if you are on social media today that might be a jollier thing to do, for a bit of respite and a sense of global community and camaraderie. 

We have a wonderful Irish diaspora here in Belgium who already have a great sense of community and I know that you are all looking out for one another, as you always do. I am so glad that before the situation became more challenging, we still managed to have some lovely events including; the launch of Seachtain na Gaeilge and an incredibly powerful performance of a play in Irish, a beautiful literary weekend in Bruges with visiting Irish authors and a very special presentation at Bruges library, as well as one of my annual favourites - the GAA medal ceremony for the fabulous young players and also that we had the chance to launch Darkness Into Light for the third iteration in Belgium – never has mental health been more important and even though the DIL walk has been postponed from 8 May, the organisations which support mental health still need all of our support.

We will walk together again in the future but we can still walk together virtually today and every day on the challenging road ahead. All of our public events are now sadly cancelled for March, April and May, but the work of the embassy continues on despite the challenging circumstances. I am very proud of our dedicated team here and we all send everyone our very best and warmest wishes on this Saint Patrick’s Day, and every day – and that is something that will never change.

Stay safe and keep well.

Beannachtaí Lá Fhéile Phádraig daoibh go léir!

Helena and the team #Working4IRL


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