WE’RE ALL IRISH ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY

When I worked at the newspapers, my favorite journalistic thing to do was research, It still is. I think some of my best work is the result of plowing through reams of old magazines and microfilm to scribble notes, which later were compiled by way of midnight torture into a WORD document that was then rewritten at least a dozen times. I was never satisfied with it, but as I heard in an episode of Mr. Selfridge, “Nothing sharpens a journalist’s pencil or her wit like a deadline.” There were many occasions when an editor ripped my story from the printer and sent it to be pasted up, as I begged her to let me give it one last look. Ah, the bad ol’ days. I don’t miss them. The Internet is God’s gift to a features writer. I wrote the following little story at least 25 years ago. It did require research, but not hours and hours of wrenching hard work. In fact, if I remember correctly, I enjoyed doing it. I know I loved writing it. Hope you like it as well.

 

The banks and the post office won’t close for it, and most of us will have to trudge into work just like any other day, but never mind; this week gives us one of our favorite holidays. We’ll wear a bit o’ green on March 17 and celebrate, because we’re all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

How we celebrate is strictly a personal matter, and will most likely have nothing to do with the patron saint of Ireland. The kindly and simple bishop who brought Christianity to that country would probably be amazed at our raucous remembrance of him on his day.

On the other hand, maybe he wouldn’t mind all our hoopla so much, for if ever there lived a saint to have his day shrouded in a jumble of myths, all firmly rooted in thin air, St. Patrick was the one.

For example, remember those snakes that he was supposed to have chased from the Irish countryside into the sea? Sorry. It just didn’t happen. Zoologists determined a long time ago there were no snakes in Ireland at the time St. Pat trod the shamrocks.

In fact, it may come as a surprise to learn that he wasn’t even Irish.

Patrick was actually British, or more accurately Roman, since Great Britain was part of the Roman Empire when he was born in 389 AD to Christian parents. When he was 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland, then a wild pagan country, where he was sold into slavery. He escaped after six years and vowed never to return to Ireland.

But the future saint shouldn’t have been so sure. In a dream, an angel came to him and handed him a bundle of letters marked “from the Irish.” This most unlikely legend is probably true, for it is sketchily documented in “Confessions,” one of his two writings still surviving.

The letters begged him to come back to Ireland and to bring Christianity with him. Patrick decided to answer the call. His life constantly in danger, he traveled over the island preaching, and transformed the heathen land into a Roman Catholic country.

The most prevalent legend about St. Patrick’s ministry may or may not be true, but it makes a charming story. One day he was preaching to a great crowd assembled in a field. His listeners were having difficulty understanding the Trinity. In a flash of inspiration, Patrick bent over and plucked a trefoil shamrock.

“Do you not see,” he asked the people, “how in this wildflower three leaves are united on one stalk, and will you not then believe that there are indeed three persons and yet one God?” Bingo! The assembly made the connection and the shamrock became the symbol of the Trinity as well as the national emblem of Ireland.

St. Patrick lived to the ripe old age of 72, a rare feat in those days. His death occurred suddenly on a day in early spring when the shamrocks had just barely greened the hillsides. Shocked, the people of Ireland went into a long period of mourning. When it was over, no one could remember whether the good man died on March 8 or March 9. Perplexed, they added the two numbers together and came up with March 17, probably another myth. When St. Patrick was canonized, the made-up day of his death became his feast day.

So, celebrate however you choose. If you’re thinking a night on the town might set your Irish eyes to smiling, many local watering holes turn into Irish pubs for a day. One of them might just be your cup of tea or, more likely, your stein of green beer.

If a boisterous night out doesn’t appeal to you, rent a video of “The Quiet Man,” stir up a rich Irish coffee, wrap yourself in a green afghan, and be an Irish couch potato for the evening.

St. Patrick stood up for his beliefs, and he won’t mind if you sit down for yours.

 

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