Friday, March 15, 2019

Some Things to Talk About at a St. Patrick’s Day Party

A tree growing from the side of a grass covered hill by a path leading to the ocean
Beautiful County Mayo
As the proud granddaughter of a woman who emigrated  from County Mayo, every year I find myself telling people about the coolness of Ireland and its history. Beyond the green beer (not Irish) and corned beef (not Irish), there lies an ancient landscape filled with beauty, mystery and amazing people. Here are some tidbits I’d like to share:

St. Patrick in flowing green robes and a tall white hat carrying a bible and a staff. There are shamrocks with white blooms at this feet.
St. Patrick was a slave:
St. Patrick (real name: Maewyn Succat) was born in Britannia about 380 AD to a family of some status. He lived comfortably until age 16, when he was captured by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland. Once there, he was sold to an Irish chieftain who put him to work as a shepherd and that’s what he did for the next six years. I’ve been in Ireland during winter in the comfort of a 21st century life and it was harsh; I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be out in it during the 4th century. Eventually, St. Patrick escaped back to Britannia, where he studied for the priesthood before returning to Ireland in 433 to convert the pagan people that had enslaved him. He is often depicted with a shamrock because he used this common, 3-leafed plant to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the native Irish.

Interior view of the white arches, goldtone pews and stained glass windows of Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin, Ireland
The interior of Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin
A holiday mash-up: There is another saint that inspired a holiday who has ties to Ireland: St. Valentine. Although St. Valentine was executed by the Romans in the 3rd century, an enterprising priest managed to acquire his bones in 1835. They are now interred in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. This has become a popular pilgrimage site for the lovelorn and love-struck. As is the case with ancient artifacts, not everyone agrees to the authenticity of these bones, but Dublin seems to have a pretty solid case.

Irish Round Towers: Ireland is an exceedingly ancient land; it has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years (some say 12,500). It is impossible to move through this island without
A tall stone round tower with a cemetery and trees at its feet and a hillside in the background.
Glendalough Round Tower, Coutny Wicklow, Ireland
experiencing this deep history. Castles abound, as do ruins of all kinds. But, there are some structures that are both extremely old and in extremely good condition – the round towers. There are 65 of these tall (some are over 100 ft. tall) stone structures sprinkled throughout Ireland. They are believed to have been built sometime between the 7th and 10th century. But, no one knows why they were built. Theories abound, of course, including the idea that they are paramagnetic energy receptors. Whatever they are meant to be, they remain as beautiful reminders of past human efforts.

A grey Irish wolfhound on standing on its back paws with its front paws on a red-headed woman in a black dress. There are leaves on the ground and water and trees in the background.Wolves and Wolfhounds: Humans have been in Ireland a very long time, but wolves were there long before any of them. There have been wolf remains dated to 34,000 BC. They came early and stayed until the last one was killed in 1786 (300 years after they were killed off in Europe). In the years in between, they became a part of legend and myth, as well as a daily danger to humans who encroached on their forest. There are many accounts of them feasting on the leftovers of a battlefield or an unlucky passerby (St. Patrick, no doubt, had his run-ins with wolves). Ireland even became known as “Wolf Land”. It makes complete sense that out of this bounty of wolves, the Irish developed the Irish Wolfhound. It was already an established breed in 391 A.D., when one was taken to Rome. This massive beast can stand up to 7 ft. tall on its hind legs and was bred as a war dog and wolf killer. This ferocity, however, has been bred out of them and modern Irish Wolfhounds have a gentle and calm disposition. There is an Irish proverb that says: “Gentle when stroked; fierce when provoked”. But, that may refer to the human Irish as well.
The front of an old building with multiple windows, painted yellow on top and rose-colored on the bottom floor.There are white columns on the bottom facade and cars in the foreground.

Old school pub: The oldest pub in the world is Sean’s Pub, smack in the middle of Ireland in Athlone, County Roscommon. Still thriving today, it was opened in 900 AD! I’m sorry I missed it while I was in Ireland; it will be on the list for my next visit.

Did an Irishman “discover” America?: Many people believe that St. Brendan (461-577 AD), from County Kerry was the first European to see North America. That’s approximately 500 years before the Vikings and 1,000 years before Columbus!

The green, white and organe flag of the Republic of Ireland on a white pole against a blue sky with white clouds.The true colors of Ireland: Most people (in America, anyway) think “Green” when they think of Ireland, and it is called the “Emerald Isle” for good reason. But there are other colors that have deep meaning to the Irish. Orange has been a symbol of Protestantism in Ireland since the time of William of Orange (1650-1702). Over the years, green became the color of the Catholics. When the Irish Free State (now known as the Republic of Ireland) gained its independence from England in 1921, they adopted a flag that has green and orange with white in the middle to symbolize the hoped-for peace between the two religions. Like orange, blue is not a color that most Americans associate with Ireland, but it was the original color linked to St. Patrick. In fact, the official “St. Patrick’s Blue” is a lovely sky blue.

Surprising Irish heritage: Many millions of Americans can claim some Irish heritage (thanks to the estimated 4.5 million people who immigrated between 1820-1930). Some notable examples: Muhammad Ali, whose great-grandfather left County Clare in the 1860’s and married a free African-American woman in Kentucky, and Barak Obama, whose ancestor fled the famine in
Moneygall, County Offaly in the 1850’s.

President Barack Obama in a dark suit and white shirt drinking a glass of dark Guinness beer. There is another grey-haired man also drinking in the background.Guinness: This one thing that is as beloved in Ireland as it is in America. Back on December 31, 1759, Albert Guinness signed a lease that may be the longest running ever. He agreed to pay 45 Irish pounds a year for 9,000 years! It’s a good thing that it’s well-loved lager! In case you were wondering, here is a video on how to properly drink a pint.

A green sharmrock on a black background with the words, "Erin Go Bragh Ireland Forever" in green surrounding the shamrock.I hope that all of this adds to your understanding and enjoyment of St. Patrick’s Day. We Irish-Americans have come a long way since my grandmother’s time, when the Irish were often treated despicably. We owe it to our ancestors to honor the homeland and it’s traditions on this grand day.

Submitted by Pam

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