Malta Diary: Bar brawl over St Patrick’s Day!
As if Malta does not have enough to be preoccupied with – including the disintegration last week of the UNESCO World Heritage Dwejra Azure Window during a tremendous storm, Malta’s Presidency of the EU Council from January to June, and an ongoing struggle with illegal immigration, all over-and-above the eternal minute-by-minute wrangling between the islands’ two main political parties – recent days have seen a fresh wrangle revolving around St Patrick’s Day due on Friday, 17th March.
Now what has Malta to do with St Patrick’s Day you may well ask? Well, with all due respect and apologies to Irish readers – virtually nothing at all. However, in recent years this has been serving as a catalyst for a night of binge drinking and lechery in general by the younger generations and this year, falling on a Friday, it will be worse because the majority will have the opportunity to sleep it all off over a Saturday.
Guaranteed that were the greater and vaster majority to be asked, “Who was St Patrick?”, 99.99% will not get beyond saying “Ireland’s Patron Saint”. The exceptions would be a few of Irish descent at some time in history and those that live in the suburb on the fringe of Valletta, Floriana.
Floriana celebrates St Patrick’s Day with pomp and circumstance – and has reason to. Not that Pat came to Floriana, but the Irish certainly did and in some copious numbers, and they left their mark.
Between the 19th and 20th Century, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, part of the British Army, were stationed in Floriana where the regiment had its barracks. They blended well with the local community at a time when Association Football was all the rage and being spread throughout Malta by British Services personnel.
In its birth stage, Floriana Football Club warmed strongly to the Irish and promptly adopted Irish colours for the team, that is grass green and white stripes, white shorts and hooped green and white socks and henceforth, together with the people of Floriana became known as the Floriana Irish.
To heighten their popularity they entered into hot rivalry pique with the team from Sliema, Sliema Wanderers Football Club, pioneered by an officer from the Staffordshire Regiment who promptly dubbed the name Wanderers as a follower of Wolverhampton Wanderers, these wearing dark blue/light blue/white colours.
In time they became known as ‘The Old Firm’ based on the Glasgow rivals Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers – but of course without the religious undertones.
The two embarked on a Century of bitter rivalry throughout which they almost entirely dominated Maltese football and most football followers throughout the islands divided their loyalties among the two clubs and matches attracted many thousands of spectators.
With the Irish barracks nearby the lure of Maltese maidens from nearby Floriana led to numbers of inter-marriages and sealed the Floriana links with the Irish.
The Cottonera district (mainly Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa) also had some Irish links because of the presence of the Royal Naval Dockyard and through merchant shipping and the football team from Paola became known as Hibernians Football Club.
However, those snippets of history are unlikely to attract the attentions of today’s younger generations whose cultures are mainly zapped by taking ridiculous selfies and sending naked pictures of themselves to close friends and then going into a tantrum of furies when these are plastered all over the internet. A sign of having reached “maturity” and “puberty” nowadays is that of being paralysed drunk, vomiting all over the place and urinating in public. That is what is called “modern living”!
And the current wrangle? Recent years’ St Patrick’s Day Celebrations have included costume parades in Valletta and then an evening of binge drinking in St Julian’s and Paceville, but particularly St Julian’s where the main square is surrounded by bars and restaurants.
The St Julian’s Local Government has been issuing permits to vendors to set up temporary kiosks around the square as a means of supplementing its income. The bars and restaurants have taken deep umbrage at this “intrusion” on “their patch” and everything ended up in Court, causing the Local Council to withdraw the permits!
The bad blood and umbrage still flow strong and have built up tension for Friday. We’ll wait and see what happens.