Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St Patrick's Day 2011

It's time once again for this humble scribbler born of Irish origins to wish all of you that most glorious of annual salutations:

La'Fheile Pa'draig Sona Duit

Now for those unfamiliar with the ancient Hibernian tongue, I have not accused you of singing a failed Irish duet or challenged you to a contest which involves dragging two of your male progeny around. I have in fact simply wished you a Happy St. Patrick's Day in Gaelic. (The phrase is pronounced "La ale-lah pwad-rig son a ditch") 

St Patrick is of course, the patron saint of 'The Island of Saints and Scholars', more commonly known as Ireland (pronounced 'areland). The Island of Eire in its native tongue is also known as the Emerald Isle, since its regular and abundant rains produce a countryside dominated by the same lovely shade as its crystalline namesake. More fortuitously on this day perhaps, it's a land well known for the invention by Irish monks of the nectar of the gods more commonly known as Whiskey (probably as a defense against the rigors of their chosen lifestyle); and for the production of the finest product of the brewer's art ... Guinness.

(It's a little known fact that it was God Himself who created whiskey, doing so to keep the Irish from conquering the world. ... So far, it's succeeded.)

Since this is ostensibly a day held in celebration of St Patrick, it would seem downright rude not to recount the history of the man, at least in brief

Patrick is quite curious as patron saints go, even Irish ones. Of course this might have something to do with the fact that he wasn't even Irish, but English. He actually came to Ireland for the first time as a captured slave (which is the manner in which the Irish are said to be most fond of entertaining their British neighbors). He escaped his captivity after some six years however and returned to his home in Britain, eventually becoming a deacon, and later still a bishop. He returned to Ireland as a Catholic missionary, working mostly in the north and the west of the island. Very little is actually known of the places where he labored, though legends abound of the places where he purportedly stopped and the miracles he performed while carrying out his chosen vocation. 

This missionary work ultimately proved a successful one, and the country remains largely a Catholic one to this day. And while the model of the Catholic Church that he worked for did not come about while he was alive or even as a result of his labors, he was nevertheless named the Patron Saint of Ireland by the eighth century. 

Now Irish tradition holds that St Patrick used the Shamrock to teach the heathen peoples of the island the Catholic mystery of the Holy Trinity, which may explain its popularity as a symbol today. This tale may be more an example of the Irish flair for the 'telling of a good tale" than of actual doctrinal education however, as the accounts of the use of this three-leafed white clover only began to appear in popular myth centuries after his death. 

The noted Irish knack for exaggeration and overstatement might likewise be held responsible for the accounts of St Patrick chasing the snakes from Ireland's shores, since there have never actually been snakes in Ireland. (In defense of such myths, it should noted that the Irish seldom let the truth get in the way of a good story.)

Regardless of the legendary nature of his time on earth (excused as perhaps no more than a bit of Blarney), or the fact that he was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church, we nevertheless celebrate his feast day every year on March 17th, the date believed to be that of his death. (Wow, even typing that much about St Patrick creates a powerful thirst in a man, and would no doubt constitute sufficient reason to stop off at the pub for a pint or two. This affinity undoubtedly accounts in large part for the relationship between the man and the behavior.) 

As I have pointed out on previous occasions here, March 17th is also the birthday of one of my grandchildren, Margaret Ruth Tipatina Demaria. "Maggie Moo Kropotnik", will be turning five on this particular day of family celebration if memory still serves me correctly. Rumor has it that they will once again be holding parades in New York City (near where she lives) and in Chicago (where my own roots are) in celebration of this blessed event. 

Strange as it may seem, you will not find me making a pub crawl in my local community on this 'feast day'. For while personal considerations indeed make it a day worthy of all manner of celebration, I find it almost dangerous to participate in the amateur rites now held in honor of the occasion (especially after a rather legendary experience of my own one year in Savannah, GA). In the spirit of the myth and the man however, I am persuaded at least to offer an Irish toast to all of you on this day of days for the Demaria clan, for the Higgins clan, and for that paragon of Irish virtue (no doubt likewise exaggerated) ... St Patrick. It's a sentiment that should speak to all those considering themselves true Irishmen, and even those only so blessed this one day a year:

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand
And may you live in peace and freedom

All of this may be a bit too complicated for those of you already drinking green Anheuser-Busch or Miller products in what is undoubtedly a heartfelt but terribly misguided form of Celtic revelry, as it will surely be for those of you who will graduate to Car Bombs during the lunch hour. (A Car Bomb is a shot of Irish whiskey dropped into a pint of Guinness, with the name coming from the affect that drinking such a concoction in one long swallow has on the consumer's brain matter.) 

So for you 'happy few, you band of brothers', let me offer instead this far more simple effort:

May you be in heaven for two hours before the devil knows you're dead!


(Note: I considered translating this entire blog posting into Gaelic, on a recent back-handed suggestion from a friend. I ultimately decided against it however, as I feel I already place too great a burden on readers attempting to understand what I write.)


Randy Moore said...

Thank you a thousand times over and again Tim! I have no way of knowing just where in Ireland my line is from but I do salute Michael Collins and his people for freeing Ireland and May God keep them safe!

Timothy W Higgins said...


Which part of the fair isle we come from is not nearly as important as remembering the struggle of its people to determine their own destiny (something we would do well to consider ourselves these days).

In this it appears, you need have no concern. Happy St Paddy's Day.