When I was a child, St. Patrick’s Day meant wearing green to school, coloring pictures of Irish leprechauns, making paper shamrocks, and listening to stories of St. Patrick. As an adult, I learned that much of what I had been taught about St. Patrick was purely myth.
St. Patrick, whose given name was Maewyn, wasn’t always quite so saintly. Until the age of sixteen, he considered himself a pagan, and did not discover his faith until he was sold into slavery by Irish raiders who attacked his hometown village in Wales. Patrick’s ministry of converting Irish pagans to Christianity lasted thirty years. Contrary to Irish folklore, Patrick did not raise people from the dead, nor did he drive all the snakes from Ireland (there were no snakes in Ireland at the time). It is widely believed that Patrick used the three leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity; in remembrance, Irish folk around the world now sport a shamrock on St. Patty’s Day, March 17th, the alleged date of St. Patrick’s death.
In Ireland, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day begins a week prior and lasts through March 17th. Festivals, featuring carnival events, street performances, food, and parades are held throughout Ireland. The first public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in America was in Boston in 1737. Though most credit St. Patrick with the cause for celebration, St. Patrick’s Day is renown as the “first green of spring.”
Despite my Irish heritage, I don’t think much about St. Patrick on his feast day, nor do I wear a shamrock, drink beer, or eat corned beef cabbage. On St. Patty’s Day, my thoughts turn to my great-great grandfather, Peter. Born in Ballygroogan in the parish of Derryloran in County Tyrone, Ireland, Peter left his homeland for America sometime in 1848, perhaps due to the potato famine. I am here in America because Peter had the courage to make that journey into the unknown, and I never forget that. Whenever the “wearing o’ the green” rolls around, I wish I could hear Peter, in his native tongue, tell me about Ireland and his early life in America. I wish I knew what my Irish ancestor looked like. I wonder if I resemble him at all…if I somehow inherited my love of bagpipes, or more importantly, my love of family from him.
On this “first green of spring,” I thank Peter for coming to America, and I praise the good Lord for the same. And on this “first green of spring,” I offer you a Celtic blessing:
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May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!
“Beannachd Dia dhuit!” Blessings of God be with you.