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OPINION: West Ham archdeacon Elwin Cockett is going to be celebrating diversity on St Patrick's Day

PUBLISHED: 08:00 15 March 2017

Archant

No-one with a drop of Irish blood in them will need reminding that this Friday is St Patrick's day.

No doubt a good few pints of Guinness will be sunk and a good time will be had by all as Ireland’s favourite son is celebrated.

Hold on, though: I hope it won’t spoil the party if I point out that ‘Ireland’s favourite son’ was – shock, horror – British! Patrick was born in Britain and grew up here towards the end of the Roman Empire. He only went to Ireland in the first place because he was kidnapped by Irish pirates. It was on his return to England that Patrick became the passionate advocate for Christianity who would later take the faith to Ireland.

Of course, British people reading this have no reason to be smug. England’s patron saint, St George, was a Roman soldier of mixed Turkish-Syrian heritage who never set foot in England, and Scotland’s St Andrew was one of Jesus Christ’s first followers and a first-century Jew. Of the four patron saints, only Wales’ St David had any link with these islands.

That does not matter, of course. They are part of our heritage, wherever they were born. So, too, are other foreign-born ‘national treasures’ like that quintessential English rose, Joanna Lumley, the singer Cliff Richard and the wonderful Spike Milligan, all three of whom were born in India. More recently, Mo Farah and Newham’s Christine Ohuruogu have proved that our national heroes don’t have to be white.

With its incredible diversity, Newham is a great place in which to live and work. Not many people lived here until the Victorian era, so most of us have come from somewhere else if we go back far enough. If we remember that, it should make it easier to have a certain empathy with each other. Perhaps, on St George’s day we might also remember his country, Syria, and its people? And this Friday - well, just think what arguments might have been averted over the years if more British and Irish patriots had remembered that Ireland’s patron saint was, of all things, a Brit. More from Elwin

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