Friday, March 15, 2013

Erin Go Blog

Ah, Saint Patrick's Day, one of the several holidays I spend cowering under my quilt, refusing to leave the house.

On March 17th, for some reason (probably the old “drunk Irishman” stereotype fostered by the English), Americans seem to embrace their Celtic brothers and sisters as the poster children for unbridled intoxication and copious consumption of corned beef . They then emulate this mythic construct by throwing up in the streets, stuffing themselves with cabbage, and wreaking havoc in New York City traffic.

But, is this really what we're all about? Is this what the Day is all about? What is the back story of the Patron Saint of Ireland? There seem to be as many versions of Patrick and his history as there are ginger haired children in Sligo.

Patrick has been envisioned and re-envisioned hundreds of time. You have the nicely done almost Paganistic Patrick (gently herding snakes, in this case):

Then there is the Rabbi Patrick:

The “it's all Greek to me” Patrick:

The black Patrick (this is NOT what we mean by “black Irish” folks!)


The “Who put these snakes here?” Patrick


and the “looks like my High School sweetheart” Patrick. (Honestly! Hair, beard...the works. )

However, depictions are mere fantasy. Here are a few things you may not have known:

Patrick was not Irish. Brace yourself, Bridget, but the Patron of the Emerald Isle was born in Roman Britain, most likely in or near Scotland. At 16, he was captured by pirates and sold as a slave to a landholder in Ireland. There he learned the language, the customs, and the beliefs of the land. After escaping his captivity, he studied for the priesthood, eventually returning to Ireland as a missionary.
Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland. I hate to disappoint the icon painters and the Hallmark Card company artists, but Ireland never HAD snakes. Know what we have? Frogs, Natterjack toads, ... and newts. Smooth newts, to be exact. Not the same dramatic picture, is it? Saint Patrick, chasing a slithering of smooth newts to the sea. It's damn well cruel. Driving snakes out of Ireland was a symbol of Patrick driving Paganism from the Isle. That's not true either, mind you. In ancient times, on Beltain Eve, all fires were doused, and relit from the fire kindled by the Druid's at Tara. The story goes that the priests saw a remaining lit fire on a distant hill. When they investigated, they found Patrick and his companions. The Church says that Patrick then conquered the Druids by showing that his Christian god was stronger than the Celtic divinities. Yet, Irish records say they all sat down and discussed their different faiths. Patrick, in his preaching, did not dig out the Pagan elements of society; he incorporated them into the new Christianity. To this day, being an “Irish Catholic” means your walk of faith includes many of the old traditions in new form.
Patrick probably didn't give a rat's ass about shamrocks. The concept of three divinities in one person was not foreign to the Irish. Triple goddesses abounded, from the three aspects of the goddess Brigit (later Saint Bridget), to the triple war goddesses know as the Bive. The idea of Father-Son-Holy Ghost (OK, Spirit. I'm old school) was just the yang version of Maid-Mother-Crone. Holding up a shamrock while preaching would be no more meaningful than chewing on a wheat stalk while day dreaming in a field. It was only latter that the native shamrock became the symbol of the Irish Bishop.
The original color of the Irish wasn't green. The original color associated with Patrick was actually blue. As the green shamrock was woven more closely into the identity of Patrick, the three leaves of the shamrock and green ribbons were worn to honor the saint. Green became part of the national identity (and political identity) to such an extent that wearing green was banned by the British during the 1700's.

And now, a few facts about the celebration of the day:
In Ireland, March 17th marks the date of Patrick's death. It was not celebrated like a gigantic party, but treated as a religious holiday. Folks attended Mass, and had a family meal. Lately, there have been parades and secular celebrations, but not to the extent seen in the States (Particularly NYC and Boston!)

Corned beef and cabbage is not an Irish dish. It is an Irish-American meal. When the Irish came here to work, they couldn't afford more expensive cuts of meat. Corned beef and cabbage was usually the cheapest meal on the menu. Although cabbage finds its way into many an Irish meal (such as colcannon) native Irish preferred bacon. Yummm...bacon....

There is no consumption of green beer. There IS no naturally occurring green beer. If you've stupid enough to drink green beer, you deserve what you get on the morning of March 18th. May your family let the bright morning sun shine directly into your eyes...eegit...

Here's a little You Tube offering to sum this up a bit:

Miscellaneous Irish stuff: I didn't know they raised a statue to Oscar Wilde in Dublin. I just came upon this recently: 

Typical of the Irish, we need a poetic moniker for almost everything. For instance, this is a monument called Anna Livia, representing the River Liffey:

This is called “the bitch in the ditch” , “The floozie in the zacuzzi”, or “the whore (pronounced 'who-er') in the sewer”. It should come as no surprise that Oscar's statue is called “the fag on the crag”.

I also looked up family crests lately. I always knew my mother's family was a combination of Casey:

and Cassidy:

However, I finally was able to figure out the Clark crest that belongs to my family:

What does it mean? I have no idea, except I went from Irish boars and griffins to English dragon heads. So, what does that tell me...I'm a “Ravenclaw”? If anyone knows, please clue me in.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

P.S. Rufus is much better!
P.S.S.  Come Monday, March 18th, the production of Sherlock BBC season 3 will commence!



  1. Ah, I loved this. "The fag on the crag"--I have never seen that statue. It reminds me I must give a more through read to the Oscar Wilde bio. I have.

    I did St. Patrick when I was doing my ramble through the Tarot of the Saints in 2008 and onward, should you wish to see it:

    Judy (waves)

    1. Thanks, Judy. Interesting! And I must really be removed from the Tarot world lately because I had no idea there was a Tarot of the Saints...or, maybe my Catholic school nightmares made me turn a blind eye!