Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

As a bit of a history buff and as someone who looks at the Catholic Church through critical eyes I must confess I am always a bit on the fence about this celebration. On the plus side, this is a celebration of my heritage and a celebration of the Emerald Isle itself. The history of the Irish, if nothing else, is a persistent one. The hard climate and rough seas, the Romans and then the English, and the famine to boot: these things could have all spelled the end for my ancestors and yet they persevered. Some left the exploitation of the Crown behind, saying good-bye to their fair land and that which they had so loved. They made their ways, both legally and illegally, to the shores of the New World, at times in droves. In the U.S. they were one of the first marginalized minority groups.

No Irish Need Apply

“Though life in Ireland was cruel, emigrating to America was not a joyful was referred to as the American Wake for these people knew they would never see Ireland again.”

But I digress. St. Patrick is credited for helping Christianize Ireland. As often happens during a cultural conversion there is little doubt that non-Christian natives and their ways will not be looked at in a good light.

“Pious legend credits Patrick with banishing ‘snakes’ from the island, though post-glacial Ireland never actually had snakes; one suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids of that time and place”.

Christianity supplanted the native belief system and the Druid way, more or less, died in Ireland.

But, on the bright side, it seems as if St. Patrick’s mission was not accompanied by imperial militarism (as with the Conquistadors in the Americas). St. Patrick decried atrocities against the Irish by the Britons in a letter to the King of Strathclyde called "Epistola ad Coroticum". Furthermore, it appears that the Irish as an indigenous group were not opposed to the teachings of Christianity and were not forced to accept them on the edge of a sword’s blade.

Bonfires and Crosses

“Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.”

I leave it to the reader to decide whether Patrick deserves his praise. I tend towards seeing him as another human trying to bring light to a world often filled with darkness. The question is ‘Was he helping the Irish?’ (he was NOT Irish). The answer amongst the Irish seems to be ‘Yes’ so have a beer or a shot of whiskey (or both!), kiss a lassie or lad, and Erin go Braugh!



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