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St. Patrick's Day Memories: Colum McCann

I was a suburban kid in Dublin and my father kept a neat garden, which included a couple of shamrock bushes amongst the roses. Every now and then I'd be sent out to weed the flower beds and I hardly knew the difference between a blade of grass and a slap in the jaw. One March I weeded the garden a little too industriously and got rid of all the shamrock bushes. Up to then it had been my father's ritual to get shamrock for us every Paddy's morning and he'd pin it to our clothes, and then we'd go off to the parade in the city centre. But that year we had no shamrock at all because of my lack of weeding prowess. That was the first time I wore one of those shiny green cloth badges, or ribbons, for Paddy's Day. I didn't like it at all. But I was forced to wear it. And then - I'll never forget - we drove into town and were walking down by Burgh Quay and we saw an old woman who was selling little clumps of shamrock from a stall set up on an old folding table by the river. She looked fairly destitute, and the shamrock was pretty sad too. But my father bought a clump, and pinned it on my jacket, and then on my brother and sister also. Quietly, he slipped the woman the shiny green ribbons. I'm sure she sold them later that day. On we went, towards the parade on O'Connell Street, wearing a little straggle of green, like always. A simple memory, but the best ones always are . . .

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