(My Mystic Isle is too tropical for Ireland, but for today, can we all agree there is something mystical about the Emerald Isle?)
My mother, whose parents came directly from the Ould Sod in the early 1900s, was stereotypical red-haired Irish, green eyes, hot temper and all. My cousin tells me she was determined to name her children Pat and Mike, for reasons I don’t fathom until this day. I know rafts of us were named Patricia in the 1950s because of movie actress Patricia Neal, and the Tracy/Hepburn movie Pat and Mike came along in 1952, but I don’t remember my mother ever going to the movies.
So my theory is that she wanted us to be saints. I’m named after St Patrick and my brother after St Michael, making us Irish Catholic inside and out.
Since this is St Patrick’s Day, I claim it for my own, even if St Pat was actually English. Of course, he was English. Didn’t the English do their very best to turn Ireland into England? In Pat’s case, he might have had a point, since Irish raiders kidnapped the sixteen-year-old from his wealthy home and essentially forced him into servitude until he escaped six years later. And what does the man do but decide to go back and teach the heathens?
But Saint Patrick had developed an understanding of the Irish culture and language in his years of labor—and that intelligent, sensitive boy’s story is one I’d like to write someday. When he returned to teach Christianity to heathens, he adapted the pagan rituals to Christian beliefs—celebrating Easter with bonfires and creating the Celtic cross to represent both the Christian cross and the pagan sun worship. Myth has it that he used the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity, but legends have a way of developing themselves.
Tradition has it that he died on March 17, 461, during Lent when eating meat was prohibited. Sometime after that, the church began holding services on that day, then celebrating with dancing and feasting in the afternoon, sort of like an Irish Mardi Gras to relieve the onus of Lent. Irish bacon and cabbage would be part of that feast, and thus carried into today’s celebrations.
But the Irish never held parades the way Americans do. The first—informal—parade was said to be in New York City in 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British military marched down the street playing their pipes. But as we all know, soldiers will use any excuse for a good drinking and feasting celebration. The millions of Americans who claim Irish ancestry, like me, have turned a saint’s day into a celebratory occasion—or in times past, a political arm-twisting. Whatever the truth—I love the legends and the history. Not the green beer so much!
What traditions did your families bring over from their countries? And isn’t it amazing that the United States consists of people who mostly migrated here in the last few centuries—except for the Native Americans who did so well before the Europeans. We truly are an amazing melting pot, and I hope that’s one tradition we’ll continue forever.
And for your special St Patrick's Day present:
Jo Beverley's Irish Rogue is on sale for only 99c. Miles Cavanagh is the Irish member of Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues, and all he wants is to take his prime horses to Melton Mowbray and enjoy the hunting there. He certainly doesn't want to be stuck in Ireland as guardian to a twenty-year old hellion determined to marry a despicable man. Dangerous Joy, first published in 1995, on sale for Nook and Kindle from the 15th to the 18th March only