It was that time of year again, the notice came out from the school, everyone was to make an effort and get involved, it was International Day. I cringed. For the past five years, I’d been humiliated in four different countries on International Day. Memories of Doha, 2011, where there was no representation for Ireland on International Day at the school. Abu Dhabi, 2012, memories of me standing in the searing sun at a table donned with a plastic tri-colour and the paint from the shamrocks dripping down my cheeks onto my Irish soccer t-shirt as the other countries passed by and smiled sympathetically. Abu Dhabi 2013, I couldn’t face the humiliation of yet another leprechaun led parade, with kids carrying plastic crocks of gold so I no-showed. Indonesia 2014, two burly Australian men manned a Guinness tap, offering tastes to the Koreans and Japanese who seemed amused by such a primitive display, they had Sudoku and Sushi on their table.
International day would be simple in school back in Ireland today. There’d be five stands, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Nigerian and Irish. The Irish stand would be manned by a Latvian and a Pole, because the Irish couldn’t be bothered to do it themselves and the Nigerians would be too proud. The Lithuanians would have sub-let their own stand to Indians. All in all everyone would be delighted with the day off school, the Irish would go to the local after to celebrate and the rest would do a cash painting job. This is how I imagine it would be, but remember I’m gone from Ireland five years with only Ross O’Carroll Kelly to keep me abreast.
Anyway, this week in Park House School in Doha, International Day was the hot topic. I smiled, agreed, offered little support and yet somehow still got included in the organisers list. In the past I had cunningly steered clear of everything I knew I was unable to excel at. (Not ending sentences in prepositions excluded). I had no desire to spend a day playing second fiddle to the UK, South Africa, Australia and all the ‘great’ nations, while we poor paddies made shows of ourselves wearing green nylon wigs and t-shirts with pictures frothy pints of Guinness on the front.
But this year there was a change, it was headed up by Ruth O’Sullivan, a native as if there was need to clarify, given the name. The tone from the onset was different, there was no talk of leprechauns, shillelaghs’, shamrocks or harps. There was no talk of Guinness or drunken Irish. There would be no wigs or self-deprecating face paints. She and her team of seven strong, six if you count me, took it upon themselves to represent Ireland in the ‘2015 Park House International Day’ day.
The Irish table, led and hosted by Ruth (a teacher at Park House School and more importantly a Munster Woman), along with Susan Byrne, Roisin Bennett, Elizabeth Flanagan, Cheryl, Aoifah & Alena was a raving success and not a nylon wig in sight. The foods on display were tayto sandwiches, Irish cheese and butter, scones and of course Irish Soda bread. Rashers and sausages, pudding, pork and ham were not on display, largely Muslim audience you know. The sales agent for Kerrygold in Arabia was in attendance and made sure that all of the 63 other nationalities in attendance at Park House School were given the opportunity to taste Kerrygold, the real Irish butter, along with our sumptuous cheeses and when you were finished tasting those delights you could get one on one coaching on how to solo with a sliotar and hurley.
Suddenly I could feel my enthusiasm pick up a little and I could feel New Zealand begin to buckle under the pressure when there was a bigger queue for the Puck Fada than the Haka. England showed serious signs of strain when people passed up on the shortbread but asked for Tayto sandwiches. And the grand finale, a whole display of Irish Dancing, the crowd moved rhythmically in sync with everything from the easy reel to the hornpipe, the Boys of Bluehill blared out over the heads of all the nationalities and the hearts of us Irish soared as if it was Galway Bay in our view and not the desert highway to the Kingdom of a Saudi Arabia.
So thanks to all the Irish people abroad who keep Ireland alive in Dubai, New York, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manchester and Doha.
Park House English School is founded by an Irish woman, Heather Brennan, Fermanagh and is now one of the top private English speaking schools in the Middle East.