Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patrick's Day

Today is the Feast of Saint Patrick, commonly called St. Patrick's Day. In our modern distorted view of Irish culture, we tend to think of St. Patrick's Day as a day for green clothes, green beer, and general revelry. It amazes me the number of people, many of whom claim to be Irish, who have no clue as to the real meaning of the symbolism behind the day today.

March 17th is actually the anniversary of the death of Patrick, who died at what is now Downpatrick in the year 461. Patrick had landed at Wicklow Head at the mouth of the River Vantry in the year 433 after the little boy who once was captured by Irish pirates and sold as a slave was called in a dream to return to Ireland to preach Christ to the people who had once enslaved him. Within his lifetime, all of Ireland had been converted to the Faith.

Some of the symbols we associate with St. Patrick's Day are things that Americans have forgotten the meaning of. Contrary to popular belief, shamrock are not native to Ireland, but were imported to the island from Scotland and the North of England. A myth has grown up around the shamrock that St. Patrick had used them to convey the message and the meaning of the Trinity to the Irish. I'm not really sure how it was Patrick explained the Holy Trinity to our ancestors, but there is little likelihood he used a shamrock to do it. The shamrock became associated with Ireland and Irish culture because a custom began in the later middle ages for the Irish to wear a shamrock to worship because most were too poor to afford a metal cross, and the shamrock bears a good resemblance to a cross when it is pinned on clothing. That custom continued well into the modern era, and the shamrock became synonymous with Ireland and the Irish.

Wearing Green-Green was one of the colors of the Arms of the High Kings of Ireland, and in the Christian Era green was one of the colors of the Church in Ireland. However, its association with Ireland in its present form dates back to the Williamite Wars, green was the color of those Irish and others who supported the continuing reign of James II (Stuart), a Catholic. Those who supported the overthow of James and his replacement with William of Orange were Protestant and many were transplants from mainland Britain, they adopted the color orange.

After James II was overthrown by William of Orange, many Irish supported James' rightful successor, James III, who never ruled. Support for James III and the Stuarts was symbolized in a popular toast in which men would toast their pints of ale over a bucket of water, as a toast to the "King across the water."

Those who favored Irish independence from the British Crown came to use green as their color because they were (and are) overwhelmingly Catholic, while those who favor continued union with Britain (especially for Northern Ireland) are overwhelmingly Protestant and still use orange as their color. The primary opposing religious orders that exist in conflict today are the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (known as the Orange Order.) I once asked a Baptist friend of mine who was dressed one year on St. Patrick's Day from head to toe when it was she converted to Catholicism! When I explained the true meaning of the color green in Irish history, she was quite shocked. Like most people, I suspect she had no clue as to the real meaning of "Wearin' of the Green."

Whatever your persuasion, raise a glass high today to the man who brought the name of Christ to so many of our ancestors.


At Friday, March 17, 2006 11:27:00 PM, Blogger Mercy Now said...

Thanks for the history lesson. It's one of those things that many of us celebrates but know little behind it. Happy St. Patrick's!

At Saturday, March 18, 2006 12:35:00 PM, Blogger The Sen. said...

Cool use of green.


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