By Jim Commins
The sum total of the ex-pat community in Dubai and Sharjah would not have been more than thirty in 1958, and out of that number there were only seven in Sharjah.
Although numerically small, there were parties aplenty.
Because of the extreme heat and living conditions, there was a huge turn over of personnel.
Parties were given for those leaving and more for the newcomers.
There were mainly cocktail affairs, wine with finger food, gossiping and circulating.
With not many ‘dos’ on the agenda for mid-March, St. Patrick’s Day was a good excuse for a get-together.
The invitation cards were printed in colour and widely commented upon. Normally, they would either be handwritten or in black and white.
They were also different in that the ‘inviter’ was not named. Everyone of course knew from whom they came as there was only one Irish person in Sharjah. Probably the first ex-pat “Pat”.
The party could not be held in the bank’s premises. The living quarters, which were on the second floor, had only two small bedrooms, a toilet, a kitchen/dining room and a balcony with a mosquito mesh.
It was held in the canteen of International Aeradio. It was an informal affair, the only stipulation being that something green should be worn.
The only one excused was the bank’s manager, Neville Green.
The main course was a curry with goats’ meat. No cabbage and positively no bacon!
The only concession to the day was that rice was coloured with saffron and some green peas thrown in.
During the course of the meal one of the guests deliberately separated chunks of the meat and beamed at those nearest to him.
At a function the previous month in the Sheikh’s majlis (palace) a visting guest from London had to excuse himself when he discovered an unmentionable among the sweetbreads.
At the same function there were numerous bouts of belching. This was customary and considered not to be impolite.
After the meal, but before there was any drinking, the kitchen sataff were given permission to leave so that their Islamic beliefs would not be compromised.
It should be said, however, that alcohol drinking was permitted at certain private parties.
I have recently been informed that there are still strict laws regarding the use of alcohol in Sharjah.
Whiskey, however, could not be obtained either in Sharjah or Dubai, and had to be procured by a circuitous route. The order was placed with a trading company in Dubai. They in turn ordered it from Bahrain. From there it was sent to Sharjah airport (the only one in the region) and then on to Dubai from where it was corrected.
As there were only three bottles of it, Irish of course, it did not last “jig” time. When it ran out it was replaced with cans of beer and “sláinte” with “cheers”.
Most of them never heard of Saint Patrick, or never attended a céilidhe or céilidhe dance.
The latter was resolved by giving a demonstration of the reel with its hop-two-three and one-two-three-four-five-six-seven. There was no shortage of volunteers to ‘take to the floor’.
A Scotsman made a fair fist of it. As for the rest, well, some of the chairs were not removed to one side quickly enough. Songs, such as Danny Boy and Molly Malone were attempted, as was ‘It’s A Long Way To Tipperary’.
In high spirits, leaving in a convoy for Dubai (most of them came from there) they began to sing “I’ll take the high road”. The sub-zero freezing night desert air soon put a stop to that! Anyway, there were no roads of any kind, just tracks, between Sharjah and Dubai.
At subsequent social events it was the main subject of conversation and by all accounts it was the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration to be held in the Trucial States, now the United Arab Emirates.