Stories from the Emerald Island Part III
In honour of St. Patrick’s Day which will be celebrated mid-month by many people around the world, I choose to share some of the experiences gifted to me during my time in Ireland…
St. Patrick’s Day
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. In Dublin, many residents will go to church in the morning. There will be a big parade around noon and then folks will spend time with their families, have some good food as well as drinks and (hopefully!) enjoy some time with their loved ones while the tourists storm the pubs in the city centre and Temple Bar will be even more crowded than usual.
Yes, although the concept of the US-American St. Patrick’s Day parades became a fun part of the Irish celebrations, this holiday is still one to actually honour the Saint and spend time with the family.
Still, there will be fun celebrations all week in Dublin for tourists and residents alike.
The story goes, that St. Patrick grew up in Roman Britain of the 4th or 5th century (there are two theories). When he was about 16 years old, he was captured by Irish pirates and sold into slavery on the Emerald Island. After enduring servitude for six years, he heard a voice speaking to him, that he would be able to escape and return to his family – and so it was. During the adventures he encountered on his journey home, he found faith in Christianity. Upon his return to Britain, he studied the Christian religion. A few years later St. Patrick had a vision of “The Voice of the Irish” calling him to walk amongst them. Following this vision, he returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop. Although not welcome by the locals at first, he won the trust of the people, eventually, by using his knowledge of the language and culture that he had learned during his time of slavery. He did not accept gifts, not even from the wealthy people and it seems he had his very own way of sharing his belief. It also seems he had a habit to stand in for the protection of his community. When some of his converts were taken into slavery by a man named Coroticus while raiding Ireland, Patrick wrote an open letter to him and his soldiers, stating that he had excommunicated Coroticus and called his followers “fellow citizens of the devils”. All this was not looked upon with goodwill by the institution of the church. March 17th is assigned as the date of St. Patrick’s death.
There are many legends assigned to Saint Patrick. One of the most popular symbolisms associated with him, the shamrock, goes back to a story, according to which the Saint used the trifoliate shamrock to explain the concept of trinity to his converts.
For me, this ties in well with the idea of some folklorists, who claim to have found evidence that St. Patrick practiced a combination of indigenous religious traditions with that of Christianity, as the principle of trinity was well-known by the ancient religions of Ireland. From my view, this suggests that, rather than using the shamrock for explaining the principle or trinity to his followers he may have used it as a symbol to build a bridge between the ancient Irish belief and the Christian religion.
Why should I celebrate this day?
I am not a Christian – nor a follower of any other religion. Mainly, that is because I see the same truth in all of them and don’t see the point in assigning myself to one institution promoting one path. But that is another story to be told another time.
I am not a fan of fighting about religion or of proselytizing people. Nor does it slip my attention that one could interpret some of the legends or St. Patrick as symbolism of the British triumphing over the Irish. As the Irish don’t seem to share that last thought and I suppose that they know more about their own history than I do, I won’t argue about this.
I am not Irish, either; nor American, Australian or British or of any other nation where this day is celebrated. Well, strictly speaking, through my marriage I actually am somewhat related to about three out of those four nations. And I have lived on the Emerald Isle for a short while – which belongs to the best experiences of my life. Anyways, everybody is a bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!
So, what do I celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day – a non-Christian, non-Irish, pacifistic woman?
Well, first of all, I do like shamrocks! Their symbolism is rich, far beyond the part connecting the Trinity with the trifoliate plant and the luck for the four-leaved one. Many varieties of the clover are edible and rich in vitamins. They grow in various conditions and come in various shapes. They are little and easy to overlook, yet powerful. Those who bother to look will find great beauty in the sometimes tiny blossoms. And when I was a child, our garden was full of white clover. Although the neighbours did laugh at us, most of the year, for rather having a clover field than a lawn, they did envy the beauty this brought in summer, when the whole garden was covered with little white blossoms and a faint scent of honey was in the air.
Also, looking at the legend of St. Patrick, I cannot help but admire his path. He followed his heart and what he believed in. He found a way to express this. It seems that he truly loved his people, in spite of the hardships he endured in Ireland, before. He managed to step beyond all the fear and judgment this must have brought to him. He was not afraid of learning something new, of bridging the wisdom between the two belief systems he encountered. And he had the courage to speak his truth – even to the authority of his church. And all this happened, to my knowledge, without spilling the blood of another. So he might even be an example for walking a peaceful path.
Last but not least, I am very grateful for the time I had in Ireland (as well as for the second time and for any further trips I hopefully make there) I feel so gifted by the experiences I encountered – all of them. The land, the people, the energies – in a wonderful way they all taught me something about who I am. Honouring the day of the patron saint of Ireland is my way to say thank you.
Lá Shona Fhéile Pádraig! Happy St. Patrick’s Day – where ever you are in the world and whatever you believe in!