St. Patrick's Day? If you happen to be
in New England, you may notice that small towns dye their rivers green for the
day. In Memphis, you can drop by Silky
Sullivan's down on Beale Street and have
a green beer. Everyone you meet will
claim to come from Ireland. And you'll
need to be up-to-date on your knowledge of all things Irish, like blarney
stones, leprechauns and shamrocks.
St. Patrick was real enough, although he was a
pagan, came from Wales rather than Ireland, and was named Maewyn. His first trip to Ireland occurred when he
was captured by Irish marauders and carried off as a slave at the age of
16. After 6 years, he escaped and made
his way to Auxerre in Gaul, where he studied at a monastery and adopted
Christianity. He returned to Ireland as
a bishop and spent some 30 years fighting with the local Druids and converting
the population to Christianity.
it that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.
True enough, there are no snakes there.
But, then, there never have
been. The island broke away from the
continent well before the last Ice Age, and snakes never managed to make the
swim to re-establish themselves. My
guess is that when Patrick promised to drive the snakes out of Ireland, he was
actually casting an ugly slur on the Druids, who were pagan priests – "the
are also problematic. We all know what
they look like – about three feet tall, old and ugly, with pointed ears and a
pointed cap to match. They smoke
long-stemmed pipes, make shoes, and hide pots of gold under rainbows. They are
anti-social, tricksters, thieves, and creators of mayhem in the middle of the
night. They like to get drunk on a
homebrew called poteen and as a result usually have pink-tipped noses. There are no female leprechauns, but I'm not
going to touch the problem of how they make new baby leprechauns! They are associated with St. Patrick because
they are elves and therefore join the group of folks Patrick wanted to run out
of the island. Patrick's connection with
shamrocks is better-grounded in fact. He
used the native three-leafed plant to explain the nature of the Trinity and
adopted the shamrock as his badge. Despite the pictures you'll see, leprechauns
probably do not hide under shamrocks.
There is a real Blarney Stone, and Irish legend says that if
you kiss it, you will be rewarded with the gift of eloquence. The stone itself is located on the third
story of Blarney Castle, just northwest of the village of Cork. To kiss the stone, you must sit with your
back to it, lean backwards (with someone holding your feet), and lower your
head down a crack between two stone walls.
They tell me there are iron rails to hold onto, but I think I'd rather
just remain green with envy for those who speak with honeyed tongues.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.