By: Grainne Rhuad
I don’t celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. Although I can’t say I never have. Growing up in my generation it was great fun to wear green and then look for the person you could pinch who wasn’t. I think the base of this tradition was in the war over this Emerald Isle, you would identify what side you were on by your colors and bash in the brains of those who didn’t match. Here we just pinched. It’s just a theory; I haven’t done any exhaustive research. I can remember my cohorts and I hiding our green in necklaces, ribbons, undershirts. See, if someone pinched you and you could prove you had green on, then you had the pleasure of punching them, usually in the arm, but if you really disliked them…..What can I say, I was that kind of tom-girl.
Now days kids are no longer allowed this fun ritual. If they do try it their parents get a call from school and they go home. Why are we wrapping our kids in cotton? How is that going to help them? Especially since we seem determined to be a warlike society? So a bit of the fun has gone out of the dress up aspect.
Having come to young adulthood and going to college in a town which once won the dubious honor of Playboy’s #1 party school. Saint Patrick’s Day has always been a ridiculous mess. Well do I remember walking the 12 blocks to campus at 8am in the morning being greeted by gutters already running with green eggs and ham. I don’t know what that exactly has to do with the holiday, but restraunts and bars serve it every year. Also decorating the city sidewalks and bus-stop benches were more than a few passed out revelers. The day’s revelry would begin with people lined up at 5:30 am waiting for bars and pubs to open at 6am. They would all be down for the count from 9am to 6ish when the Guinness and Budweiser Girls would make their first appearances. For those of us interested in getting a grade we knew this was not a day to be missed. Professors always gave a “surprise” exam on that day that had high credits attached. So you would have a mix of the studious, the “dry” kids and a couple of very drunk and smelly students. They were always a blast to watch. Trying to weave their way to the front of a lecture auditorium to both pick up their test and return it. Their faces glowing green.
I wasn’t brought up Catholic so I really had no idea of what Saints even were and even less of whom St. Padriac was until College. It was there when I began taking anthropology and religious courses that I began to see how misguided I had been in my belief. Saint Patrick was not about Ireland at all. Or at least not about the spirit and strength of the good Irish people.
Here’s the short story. He was a son of Roman settlers in upper Britannia around 300 C.E. Upper Britannia is roughly the area that we now would call Scotland. He was stolen during a cattle raid in his early youth probably around 11 or 12 and either taken directly or sold to an Irish Clan leader. The Catholic Church states he was enslaved. We know that this sort of slavery was quite different from what we think of in the states. He was in essence a bondsman. A bondsman is someone who owes some sort of debt to a lord or clan. They would have to work off their bond at which time they would be freed. During their indenture they would be treated pretty well, fed regularly, given medical attention as needed, and kept healthy. A bondsman could even marry and many did. Their children would be considered free. While there he for some reason caught the spirit of the Lord and decided to pray for deliverance. Now here’s where I lose the thread. What are the chances that a Roman citizen born in the wilds of Northern Britannia would even know about Christianity? In any case he claims to have seen the Lord who in fact acted as a faerie godmother and delivered him. He eventually escaped and made his way to Rome where he was converted and over the course of his life served in Germany, France and eventually had the “good luck” to return to Ireland. By this time he had been carrying a big chip on his shoulder and wanted to convert everyone to his righteous ways. By any means necessary, this was salvation damn it! It turns out he was most successful in converting folks through force or farce, you chose. He called these actions “Miracles”
The whole deal with the snakes is the coffin pin for me. There is no evidence that there were ever snakes in Ireland. But snakes have long been linked to Pagan religions and practices. Old Paddy did not like these at all. This is mostly owing to the fact that the King to whom he was bonded was a Druidic High Priest. It was clearly important to him that this man and his spiritual standing with the people be brought low in order for his own pain to be salved, oh and for the glory of the Lord of course. Paddy made it his life’s work to do away with anything slightly spiritual in the realm, which I think was very bad form since he was in essence welcomed onto the Isle as anyone would have been. They had a freedom of religion policy. Another really big problem is he seemed to be especially annoyed with women’s practices, finding them licentious and wicked. In essence, driving the snakes from Ireland meant driving women in positions of power and wisdom from Ireland. He did not however stop with worshipping practice but also found healers and midwives somehow distasteful. So Ireland began to lose some of its rich history in the healing arts and women (and men too) had to practice them in secret. People began to die, at a higher rate, this caused them to be more afraid and as a result turned more to him. Charismatic Maniac.
It seems highly poetic that a man so concerned with stamping out licentious behavior and who was against Pagan beliefs and practices in all their forms should be assigned a day that is celebrated with abandon that would make Bacchus jealous. But I still can’t bring myself to join in a celebration this man who was responsible for the conversion of a nation from a working, helpful spiritual system to one that riddled its people with guilt and fear. Not to mention demeaning women and putting the health and medicinal treatment of a nation to its untimely death.
I’ll raise a cup to Ireland any day of the week you wish, just not March 17th.