March 17, is an auspicious occasion worldwide, not only is it the 98th anniversary of Bangabandhu’s birthday, but also St. Patrick’s Day. Both are unique and both without peers!
Bangladesh and Ireland have been ‘brothers’ a long time. Ireland, too, was once a suppressed nation, under British rule. According to historians, it was Ireland that provided guns and other assistance that helped Bangladesh gain its independence in 1971.
In gratitude for the life-saving services provided, Ireland Passport holders were permitted visa-free travel to Bangladesh and allowed to stay 90-days free of charge. In recent years, however, much to the chagrin of Irish passport holders, the policy has unexplainably changed and they are now treated no differently than other Visa-on-Arrival visitors.
That aside, if there’s one Bangladeshi word that’s a part of everybody’s vocabulary worldwide, it would have to be ‘Bangabandhu’. It refers to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation and father of the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who gave his life for his beliefs and is today regarded as the first and foremost hero of Bangladesh.
Utterly surprisingly, there hasn’t been a movie made about his incredible life, although, there’s been hundreds of books and historic accounts written that glorify his noble patriotic deeds.
On March 7 in 1971, his popularity skyrocketed to a new level, unprecedented in history, when he gave a speech at Dhaka Racecourse that lead to the change of East Pakistan forever and triggered the birth of Bangladesh.
Sir Frank Peters, an internationally celebrated dignitary, long-time ‘foreign friend’ of Bangladesh, and “half-Bangladeshi” became the first person in the world to encapsulate the powerful historic speech on a special tribute poster in 2001. Another great Irish contribution to Bangladesh history, you might say.
The unique poster is seen by many to be the unofficial Proclamation of Bangladesh and hangs in the home of the Prime Minister, the Bangabandhu Museum, the Awami League HQ and many foreign offices and homes throughout the world. The following year he became the first (and up to now, the only) ‘foreigner’ invited to speak at a function hosted by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in tribute to her beloved father.
Of Bangabandhu, Sir Frank (a former editor and publisher of national publications) once said in a BBC-TV interview:
“Of all the great men who’ve ever existed, only four I can recollect, have given speeches that have touched the hearts and souls of generations since,” he said. He went on to name Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address of November 19, 1863. Martin Luther King’s “I Had a Dream” speech of 28 August 1963, John F Kennedy’s “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You” inaugural speech of January 20th 1961 and the historic “Birth of a Nation” speech by Sheikh Mojibur Rahman of March 7, 1971.
I think Sir Frank echoed the sentiments of countless millions of people when he voiced those words.
St. Patrick’s Day started out as a religious festival, but over time, it lost its Christian exclusivity and now embraces all religions and all peoples of all nationalities.
Around 330 AD, when Patrick was a boy of 14, Irish marauders kidnapped him from a beach in Wales. At the time the Irish were totally uncivilized and a nation of plunderers and marauders. The pirates of Somalia are mere amateurs in comparison! The Irish are not like that anymore, I hastily add!
Six years following his kidnapping, he escaped from his captors, returned to his family, joined the church and became a bishop. In a vision, he was told to return to Ireland and teach Christianity to the pagans. It is acclaimed he banished snakes from Ireland, but there’s no record of snakes ever been on the Emerald Isle. The ‘snakes’ most probably represented Druids and pagans.
The three-leafed shamrock came into prominence when Saint Patrick used it to symbolize the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – all connected to the one stem (God). The shamrock (a weed) is 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.
By the seventh century, Patrick had come to be revered as the Patron Saint of Ireland. Two letters written by him survive in Dublin.
A 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.
America goes wild on March 17. Street processions with marching bands, colourful floats, and the A-Z of Irish-American organisations 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.
Unfortunately, there’s only a sprinkling of Irish people in Bangladesh, so there are no awe-inspiring celebrations for people to enjoy. William Cummings (World Bank executive), Anna O’Riordan (British High Commission) and Patrick Shaw (Grameen).
The most popular and well-known Irishman in Bangladesh is, undoubtedly, Sir Frank Peters, but rumour has it that he’s now more Bangladeshi than Irish!
Apart from creating the a unique poster that encapsulates the Bangabandhu speech he also cheekily re-invented the famous Bangladeshi lungee by giving it a pocket to hold his mobile phone, pens, and keys!
It is most probably his eight-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 honourable compassionate nature by naming their sons ‘Frank Peters’ in his honour.
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. I’ve found the majority of them to be gifted with a great sense of humour, 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.
It’s an honour to be Irish, even if only for a day, and I plan to make the best of it. Join me!
(The writer was born in Cardiff, Wales, and is an international financial adviser in the banking industry)
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