It’s March 17th, St Patrick’s Day! A sea of green can be seen in every office, every school room, and every bar. Parades will be held in all the major, and some not so major, cities. Little girls with bouncing ringlets and green ribbons galore will don their traditional Irish step costumes and dance their way into the hearts of onlookers. Inevitably, someone in an oversized leprechaun costume will toss gold-foil wrapped chocolates from a pot and wave to the crowds. Bands will play and toasts with green beer will ring. The Chicago River is dyed green every year in honor of the day. My point is that it doesn’t matter if you are Irish or wish you were Irish; you will probably be wearing something green while eating corned beef and cabbage or a hearty Reuben sandwich today. Although, you might be surprised to learn this traditional meal began with the immigrants to America. It was never the custom in Ireland.
St Patrick is the foremost patron saint of Ireland (AD385-461) and March 17th is believed to be the date of his death. He is not a true saint as he was never canonized by Rome, nor did he drive the snakes from Ireland because there are no snakes in Ireland (other than pets and zoos). There never have been for the simple reason that they cannot get there. What he is truly known for are his successful evangelism efforts across the Emerald Isle.
St Patrick was born in Dumbarton, Scotland (not even native Irish!). At the age of 16 he was captured and enslaved in pagan Ireland. For six years he clung to the religion of his grandfather, the beliefs he initially ignored, and prayed while herding sheep for his master. Supposedly because of a dream, he escaped and returned home to Scotland; but he returned to Ireland in his mid-40s to replace the failing evangelism efforts of Palladius. Palladius was the first to attempt to convert the Irish people to Catholicism. St Patrick had an advantage over Palladius; he was familiar with the Irish clan system. His former master, Milchu, was a Chieftain. The plan was to first convert the Chieftains, who would then convert their followers by example. Milchu was one of the first Chieftains to convert. St Patrick was quite successful in his efforts, although not the only missionary to Ireland, and soon Ireland was one of Europe’s Christian centers. This was important to 5th century Christians who believed Ireland to be one of the “ends of the earth”.
St Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast day but has become an international holiday to celebrate everything Irish. Boston has the honor of claiming the oldest US celebration going all the way back to 1737 when Irish immigrants brought the holiday with to their new home.
To all you Collins and Colleens out there, here’s a little Irish Blessing:
“May your troubles be less
And your blessing be more
And nothing but happiness
Come through your door”