Monday, March 19, 2012

Póg mo thóin is Éireannach mé!

“Oh but don’t you know? Every Irishman is his own King!” The Fighting O'Flynn (Universal-Internatlanal), 1949 

There is an event that I wish to regale you with, a tale of the greatest great boon to humanity – that of being proudly able to announce that I am a true representative of the greatest species in history…the Irish. Equally adroit with a saber, a rapier, a shillelagh, or a kiss, the Irish have a special place in our world. On this, the day after the supposed feast of St Patrick I find it apropos to dispel the rumors that abound each March 17th. I am, as is said, “As Irish as Paddy’s Pig.” I am of proud Irish-American heritage with a rich family history which, I am also proud to say, I am most aware of and revel in.

 My family history can be positively traced back to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 where the progenitor of my clan (the Ó Raghallaigh ) gave his life standing shoulder to shoulder with the great Ard Rí na hÉireann, Brian Bóruma mac Cennétig (Brian Boru). Prior to that, the plot thickens and gets sketchy with a mixture of fact girdled with legend. Much of this period is not certain except in this Irishman’s heart. My family’s founding dates to the reign of Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles) circa 116-161 AD. 

 This coincides with the rule of Marcus Aurelius of Rome. The Roman’s never conquered Ireland and it has been said that this was due to a perception that there was no economic value to Éirinn. The prevaricator in me with Bard like talents prefers to think that the Roman’s had better sense then to mess with Ireland. They had no desire to have their posterior end’s booted for the first time in history. It must have been similar to the sentiment the English had on 9 July 1921(yes you are correct; I am not a great fan of the English).

 Having given my bona fides on the topic, I would like to expand on what it is to be Irish and how annoying it is to go to certain restaurants every March 17th and be offered Corned Beef and Cabbage (an American construct) to be washed down with perfectly good beer that has suffered the indignity of being doused with green food dye. A travesty if ever there was one. Envisioned are my progenitors mimicking gyroscopes within the confines of their eternal resting places. 

Let us begin with the saint the day is named for…Patrick (or more correctly Pádraig). A historical figure of English or Scottish descent he was captured by Irish brigand/pirates and forced to herd sheep for six years. While sitting on a hillside watching the herd, he had a vision that there was a different life for him. He stood up, threw down his shepherd accoutrements and walked 200 miles where he found a ship that got him out of Ireland. He came back a number of years later with the divine purpose (again from a vision) to convert Ireland from paganism to Christianity. He, as the legend states, drove the snakes from Ireland. In fact, any snakes in Ireland had already disappeared during the Ice Age; (

 "One of the famous legends, of course, is that Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland," says Irish historian Harold Calvert. "The legend about the driving of the snakes may, in fact, really symbolize the driving out of evil," 

There is nothing in any literature that legitimatizes the practice of getting commode hugging drunk on his feast day. St. Patrick's Day in Ireland has almost always been a principally religious festival. Until the 1970s, pubs were required by law to close on March 17. Given this fact, I believe the sainted gentleman himself would have preferred it if all went to church and praised God instead of trying to glorify a simple priest for doing what his faith told him to do. That faith was humble and eloquent, as stated in his second prayer: 

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me, 
Christ before me,
Christ beside me, 
Christ to win me, 
Christ to comfort and restore me, 
Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, 
Christ in quiet, 
Christ in danger, 
Christ in hearts of all that love me, 
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

So much of what we know about the Feast of St. Pádraig is shrouded in folklore and mystery. We are a race that holds their Seanchaí in special esteem. The rich history of the Emerald Isle is much more a thing of beauty then the obligatory display of drunkenness and sloth that the feast has become. The vision of Patrick standing on a hill beside a fire, in defiance of a pagan king’s command speaks to me more than the Chicago River running green. The legend that tells of that same pagan king converting to Christianity is a lesson in perseverance, humility, and hope. I like that Patrick taught about Christ and not emerald barley and hops, or the liquid foundation of John Jameson’s family legacy.

Curse me for an anarchist. Berate the traitorous ramblings of a man who no longer drinks of the grain. Accuse me of vile disrespect for my ancestors. Rebuke me for the intolerance I display. Reprimand me for killing then spirit of the day. But for God and Pádraig’s sake, love me because I am Irish! I normally close with a wish for peace for all my readers, today I will leave you with a blessing:

  “Go gcoinní Dia i mbois a láimhe thú, agus nár dhúna sé a dhorn go teann choíche.”

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