Happy birthday Bangabandhu and St. Patrick!

17 March 2023, 10:38 am | Updated: 02 December 2023, 12:43 am

Happy birthday Bangabandhu and St. Patrick!

March 17 is one of those special occasions that come once a year and brings much joy for the world to celebrate. It also reminds Bengalis of historic achievements and greatness. Nobody in the world has more reason to celebrate March 17 than the Bengalis.

On March 17 1920, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was born in the village of Tungipara, Gopalganj District. There’s nothing significant in that by itself. There were lots of babies born throughout Bangladesh that day, but this one went on to prove that he’s unique and changed the course of history.

Then there’s the St. Patrick aspect of March 17.

Next to Christmas Day, St. Patrick’s Day is probably the most celebrated day throughout the universe. While it was once a day celebrated exclusively by Christians, that’s no longer the case. The Irish government is largely to thank for that. There’s an Irish saying that says, if there are any flies on the Irish, you can be sure they’re dead!’

The Irish government declares all citizens of the world to be Irish citizens for this day! It's World Celebration Day! The Bangladesh government could learn so much from Irish tourism marketing.

Bangladesh and Ireland have a lot in common. Ireland was also once a suppressed nation, most of its people living below the poverty line. To survive, they relied heavily on the potato, as the Bengalis do on rice today, but in 1845 a disease destroyed over 50% of the potato crop and this triggered a famine.  It was devastating. 

Before it ended in 1852; it claimed the lives of over a million Irish people. At least another million left Ireland as refugees, mainly for America. Hence the large population of Irish-Americans there and the huge St. Patrick’s Day parade that annually brings the nation to a standstill.

St. Patrick was Welsh, not Irish. Around 330 AD, when he was a boy of 14, Irish marauders kidnapped him from a beach in Wales and took him to Ireland into slavery. The Irish were not as nice then as they are now!

Six years later, he escaped, returned to Wales, joined the Christian church and became a bishop. In a vision, he was told to return to Ireland and teach Christianity to the pagans. This he did using the shamrock (a weed, blade of grass).

The shamrock comprises of a stem and three delightful love-at-first-sight heart-shaped leaves. St. Patrick plucked it from the ground and used it to symbolize the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – all connected to the one stem (God).

The great Bangabandhu

March17 never fails to bring me closer to Bangladesh, the fighting spirit of its people and the great achievements of Bangabandhu. For the benefit of overseas readers, Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) otherwise known as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Father of the Nation and is the paternal father of the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

It was he who inspired and led the people of Bangladesh to rebel and gain independence from Pakistan in 1971.

In 1975, he was murdered. Today he is regarded as the first and foremost hero of Bangladesh. His daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is hotly pursuing the fulfillment of his dream to make Bangladesh a Sonar Bangla (golden Bangladesh).

Irishman and self-proclaimed “half-Bangladeshi” Sir Frank Peters – an ardent admirer of Bangabandhu – is lending his heart and support especially in the field of education, to the fulfillment of the noble dream.  Sir Frank is totally non-political and has friends on all political sides “I’m as neutral as the sun and as political as the wind,” he once told the BBC.

According to Bangladeshi historians, Ireland provided guns ‘under the table’ and other assistance that helped Bangladesh gain its independence in 1971. In return, as a gesture of thanks, Irish passport holders were permitted visa-free travel to Bangladesh and allowed to stay 90 days without charge. That policy, however, has inexplicably changed and they are now treated no differently than other Visa-on-Arrival visitors.

On March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu’s popularity skyrocketed to dizzy heights through a rousing, patriotic, emotional speech he gave at Dhaka Racecourse that triggered the birth of Bangladesh.

Bangabandhu tribute poster

In 2001, Sir Frank became the first to encapsulate a powerful historic speech in a special tribute poster.

He later campaigned to have UNESCO recognise the speech for its historic magnificence and on October 30, 2017 UNESCO gave its recognition, but he takes no credit. He said he was greatly disappointed it took UNESCO so long.

His unique poster is perceived 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 royal homes throughout the world today.

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 heroic father.

More recently, Sir Frank proposed a five-day-school week that was accepted and implemented by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Education Minister Dipu Moni for the benefit of both teachers and pupils. He argued that teachers needed quality time to relax and unwind with their families, as do other government employees.

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 deeply touched the hearts and souls of generations since.”

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 Mujibur Rahman of March 7, 1971. Sir Frank gave the speech its name.

He is undoubtedly the best-known Irishman in Bangladesh. He won the hearts of many through his spade-is-a-spade anti-corporal punishment campaign to prevent abuse and cruelty to Bangladesh children. He’s their national hero of sorts. Three Bangladeshi families have named their sons ‘Frank Peters in his honour.

St. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland and to many, Bangabandhu is the Patron Saint of Bangladesh, but in a different sense. Both will be remembered throughout history

Happy birthday Bangabandhu and St. Patrick!

The writer was born in Cardiff, Wales, and is a senior international financial adviser in the banking industry



Category : Opinion