God must have been bored when He invented the Irish. He’d already played around with a few empires, watched some pyramids go up and sent sheep farmers scurrying around in the desert, ranting around about clay feet and graven images, when He noticed these little people on an island, doing absolutely nothing. Oh, they tinkered around with metal a bit and had invented some great, lethal looking gadgets for cutting wood and taking care of livestock, but nothing substantial. They just weren’t getting it. They were spending all their time talking to rocks and bushes instead of getting out there on the job lobbing pots of boiling oil at their neighbors.
The first order of the day was making these tree huggers figure out they weren’t talking to the Main Man, only the by-products He’d left behind. I’m not exactly sure how the women took this. They had been under the impression there were plenty of female sprites and spirits running around, all of which had attained some sort of goddess-head. Apparently, however, the men thought it was a great idea. Not only was there only one god, that god was male.
A glorious day for God must last about five hundred years. The Irish had their field day, running around and converting everyone to Christianity, and building monasteries while the rest of Europe undulated in applause. It seemed a splendid time to construct great Cathedrals in their own interpretations of the Man’s desires, explode into the arts and generally remain too busy to take up personal quarrels. You would have thought this benefactor who had sent his only son on a peace-keeping mission, would have been satisfied with the evidence of effective management performed by his message bearers; despite the fact that the Irish continued to be secret nature worshipers; but not so. They still hadn’t learned to lob pots of boiling oil from their castles. There was only one recourse. Send in the Vikings.
It’s not hard to imagine what the daily grapevine must have consisted of when the first Vikings arrived on Irish shores and began marauding and looting. If there had been a newspaper, the first headlines would have read, “Alien invasion! Are they from Mars?” It didn’t help that not only were the Vikings of a color they had never seen before, but they were a good two feet taller than the average Celt. It helped even less that they often wore body paint and animal skins. Imagine an early reporter interviewing his first eye witnesses. “Exactly what did your attacker look like, son?”
“Well, at first I thought he was a giant wolf. He was with a bunch of other giant wolves and bears, stealing all the gold sacramental ornaments and hauling off the women.”
“Gigantic bears and wolves got together to raid your village…”
“Ai, mate. And cougars. While me and the lads were gathering up some axes to swing at them, they began turning into these red men.”
“Red men? Little Martian red men, I take it.”
“Blimey, it was something like that except these guys were big.”
“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking too much mead? What do you mean by giant red men?”
“That they were red! That’s what I mean. They had red hair, blazing red spots on their skin, and I think they had red eyes.”
“You mean red as in the color of brick?”
“No. I mean red as in the color of fire. We battled it out with the firemen. It was a right good sport.”
Thus, the beginnings of the fighting Irish. It got so whatever the issue was, they were willing to make a fight about it. They were probably the first to say, “not in my home town,” because whatever you thought could be done, they were very adamant in saying you couldn’t. They can’t be blamed greatly for this. After getting a taste of fighting off alien invaders, they began to develop some attitudes about conquerors in general. It didn’t matter how reasonably they were approached. If the idea didn’t come from an Irishman, it didn’t count.
I don’t begrudge the Irish their day in the sun. What puzzles me is how willingly people join a celebration without the first inkling of an idea as to what it’s about. Valentine’s Day is the perfect example. For those with attention deficit problems, there’s actually a Saint in front of Valentine’s. Which means this commemoration of the king of hearts is actually a Catholic tradition, centering around not one, but possibly two or three Saint Valentines. It always takes a few pagans to make things more fun, so somehow the occasion got colored enough by cupid lore to make it a day when you’d better give something nice to your wife or sweetheart, or you’re in deep water for the rest of the year. No problem. The merchant class had been trying to think of a good way to keep the public spending money ever since they lost their business in selling clay idols. This one god philosophy had to pay off somehow, and why not by laying a little guilt trip on the husbands to buy their wives an extra something one time a year?
If they could find as profitable a market by declaring a St. Christopher’s Day, or a St. Michael’s Day, they probably would. Already, there’s a lot of band wagon jumping for the Cinco de Mayo, even though it’s doubtful very many Americans took part in the Mexican Revolution for Independence. St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect set up. Things have gone beyond the inventiveness of wearing green so you won’t get pinched by the Irish. You can now buy plastic four leaf clovers, shirts, hats and underwear sporting clover, and even frizzy green wigs. I’m not sure what bright green afro’s have to do with being Irish, but my daughter assures me its all the rage. She also insisted on getting a “kiss me, I’m Irish” button, even though there’s not a drop of Irish in her. I strongly suspect this is because she didn’t receive any cards for Valentine’s Day. It hasn’t occurred to her that this might be due to a three month binge of candy and holiday meals, but it has occurred to her to try a little free advertising.
I visualize the next phase in merchandising is the sales of lucky leprechauns. They’ll come in all shapes and sizes, as stuffed toys or ceramic lawn ornaments. They might even start making lucky leprechaun dog chew toys. Somehow, that would seem like an appropriate demise for the Irish. It seems they are able to dispense a lot of good luck, but are never allowed to keep any for themselves. Sort of like that movie, “The Cooler”. If they find luck for themselves, they sort of walk away with it, taking the entire money making machinery with them.
You won’t find very many Irish willing to discuss the laws of chance, but you will hear them debating what’s lucky or unlucky. On one St. Paddy’s Day, I was invited to the pub to have a few beers with some Irish companions. Since I can find no greater abomination than passing up a few drinks, it wasn’t difficult to convince me to come along in the spirit of celebration. At the pub, they were testing one new fella who insisted he was Irish. “If you find a penny on the ground, tails up, would you pick it up,” a tried and true, grizzled old timer asked.
“No,” replied the young man. “But I would probably turn it over to bring the next person who finds it luck.”
“Hmm. That’s Irish,” agreed the group. “But what if you found a quarter on the ground, tails up?”
“I’d figure that was my luck,” grinned the young man. Yup. He was Irish.
They are just as assertive about their assortment of fairies, gnomes, sprites and other creatures. When it seemed my electrical appliances had acquired a jinx, with first the vacuum cleaner giving up, then the microwave fizzling out, and finally my radial saw snapping its blade, my Irish friend became convinced there was a gremlin loose in my house. He brought a little straw box over the next time he visited, and sat there with it between his hands while we talked. Suddenly, he snapped the box shut and placed it carefully on the fire place mantle. He then fished from his pocket a plastic toy that looked somewhat like a pink and grey gargoyle. “Here’s the deal,” he said. “I have your gremlin trapped and placed a guard over your box. You’ll be alright if you never remove the guard and let him loose.”
We weren’t great believers in gremlins and gargoyles, but nor were we inclined to move anything that has remained stationary for a minimum of three days. The box stayed on the mantle and we enjoyed an orderly, appliance compliant life for several months. Unfortunately, one day, the wife decided to dust off the mantle. When she moved the box, the plastic gargoyle fell to the floor. The cat promptly pounced on it and carried it off. The very next day, the car wouldn’t start. It took two weeks in the shop and eight hundred dollars to discover it needed a new catalytic converter. As much as I begged my Irish friend to return, his feelings were injured that we had been so careless. He told us we let the gremlin out of the box. We’d have to get him back in.
Although the four leaf clover as an Irish symbol probably goes back to the days of antiquity, the use of it for St. Patrick’s Day actually originated in the Americas. During the Revolutionary War, there were Irish fighting for the English and Irish fighting for independence. Whatever their position, they agreed Irish fighting Irish on foreign soil was plain ridiculous. They began sporting clover in their hats so they wouldn’t shoot each other. This tradition carried on into the modern day American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish can wear their funny hats, their shamrocks and their wide suspenders all they want. The problem is, if we all start sporting clover, how are we going to know who not to shoot? The Irish might finally come around to lobbing pots of boiling oil.