March 17, is a special day worldwide, but Bangladesh is luckier than most! Not only is it the birthday of national foremost hero and Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, butalso it's St. Patrick's Day - the patron saint of Ireland. This is one of the largest (if not the largest) celebrated religious festivals in the world that's second only to Christmas. So, Bangladesh gets two good reasons to celebrate. St. Patrick's Day is without peers.
It'sunique in more ways than one. It's the festivity of the people from all walks of life irrespective of age, nationality, and even creed. There's no celebration like it. While it began predominantly as a Christian celebration, over time, it lost its Christian exclusivity and now embraces all religions and all peoples of all nationalities. And that alone is a great reason to embrace its existence and to celebrate. Every year the Irish government confershonorary Irish citizenship on all citizens of the world for that day. Whenit comes to tourism, the Bangladesh tourist authorities could really learn a trickor two (or even three) from Ireland, whose national economy was actuallyfounded on tourism. St. Patrick himself was a tourist - reluctantly, I must add. When he was a lad of 14, disheveled rugged Irish marauders brazenly kidnapped him in broad daylight from his home in Wales. At the time (around 330 AD) the Irish were totally uncivilized and a nation of plunderers and marauders, 'the terrors of the region'. It is they who wrote the manual on piracy - the pirates of Somalia are mere amateurs in comparison!
To gain the additional element of surprise, they risked their lives in questionable seaworthy vessels made of wood and animal skins and sailed to England, Scotland and Wales in precarious weather conditions. They raided, raped, pillaged and plundered brutally and mercilessly for their rewards. The Irish are not like that now, I hasten to add! Six years after Patrick's kidnapping escaped from his captors, returned to his family, and joined the church. After his ordination as a bishop, he had avision that compelled him to return to Ireland and to teach Christianity to thepagans. It is acclaimed he banished snakes from Ireland, but in all reality there is no record of there ever been snakes on the Emerald Isle. Instead, figurative language was often used in folklore tales and the 'snakes' most probably represented Druids and pagans.
The three-leafed shamrock (a weed that's widespread throughout the land) came into prominence and folklore when Saint Patrick used it to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan masses. The shamrocks said to only grow in Ireland and is much similar to clover, but without the white spots. It has three delightful heart-shaped parts and a stem. St. Patrick used it to symbolize the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - all connected to the one stem (God). By the seventh Century, Patrick had come to berevered as the patron saint of Ireland. Two letters written by him still survive in Dublin. While primarily St. Patrick's Day is a day ofIrish celebration, no one gets left out. It is truly an ecumenical cultural party that invites all to participate, irrespective of their religious beliefs. It's a celebration of life itself. America (New York and Boston especially) goes wild on March 17. Street processions with marching bands, colorful floats, andthe A-Z of Irish-American organizations and celebrities, proudly march to the beat of the drum, and the happy infectious sounds of Irish music that's good for heart, soul, and spirit. For decades, American presidents have hosted special St. Patrick's Day breakfasts at the White House for leaders of the Irish community.
A countless, massive number of Americans have Irish ancestry. Perhaps the most famous of all were the Kennedys - President John F. Kennedy, his brother Bobby(Attorney General), and Senator Edward Kennedy. All of whom literally changed the world for the better especially through their human rights initiatives. Senator Edward Kennedy had a special love for Bangladesh and he showed it to the world in its time of greatest need. There is only a sprinkling of Irish person sin Bangladesh. William Cummings (World Bank executive), Anna O'Riordan (BritishHigh Commission) and Patrick Shaw (Grameen).
The most well known Irishman in Bangladesh is, undoubtedly, Sir Frank Peters, but this is now being questioned. Some say he's now more Bangladeshi than Irish! Sir Frank designed and created a unique poster that encapsulates the Bangabandhu speech that triggered the birth of Bangladesh that is now seen by many to be the unofficial Proclamation of Bangladesh. It hangs in the Bangabandhu Museum, The Awami League HQ, many foreign offices, and the homes of presidents, prime ministers and other internationally renowned dignitaries throughout the world. The following year Sir Frank becamethe first (and up to now) the only 'foreigner' invited to speak at a function hosted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in tribute to her father. The BBC - another reputable media organizations worldwide frequently interview him about Bangladesh. He's the best, unpaid ambassador the country has. In 1971, he also supported the homeless, displaced, and starving people of Bangladesh through several successful fund-raising initiatives in the UK. He also ingeniously re-invented the famous Bangladeshi lungee by giving it a pocket to hold his mobile phone, pens, and keys!
It is most probably his six-years-old crusade to abolish corporal punishment in Bangladeshi schools and madrasas, however that has indelibly inscribed his name in Bangladesh history and endeared him most to the nation. Three Bangladeshi families have responded to his honorable compassionate nature by naming their sons 'Frank Peters' in his honor. I'm not Irish, but I will become Irish for the day and celebrate the occasion like most foreigners in Dhaka. I've worked with many Irish people over the years in many cities of the world including New York, London, Boston, Washington and Dublin and I've found the majority of them to be gifted with a great sense of humor, an enormous appetite for fun and zest for life, and people of great passion, compassion and always seeking ways to help the less fortunate, like Sir Frank. Ireland and Bangladesh have much in common. It's an honor to be Irish, even if only for a day and I plan to make the best ofit! The writer is an international financial adviser in the banking industry