Herald Journal Columns
March 13, 2006, Herald Journal

A touch of black and green

Friday will be a day of celebration around the world.

March 17; the Irish Mardi Gras; St. Patrick’s Day.

There will be singing, dancing and revelry galore, in celebration of Ireland’s patron saint.

Over the years, the history and the legend of St. Patrick have become intertwined, and there are different theories about who he was.

The generally accepted story goes something like this:

St. Patrick was born in Scotland or Roman England, probably between 373 AD and 390 AD.

His given name may have been Maewin Succat or Magonas Sucatus. His Romanized name was Patricus, but he later became popularly known as Patrick.

He was kidnapped, probably at age 16, by Nial of the Nine Hostages, a popular king of Ireland.

Some say he was taken to Antrim, and sold to a local landowner named Meliuc, who put him to work as a shepherd for six years.

Other accounts suggest that he was imprisoned for much of this time.

He eventually escaped, traveling to Britain and later, France, where he studied theology.

Some sources say that in 432 AD, Pope Celestine made Patrick a bishop before sending him on a mission to convert the Gaelic Irish, who were mostly pagans, to Christianity.

King Laoghaire, the High King of Tara, rejected Christianity himself, but allowed Patrick to spread the gospel throughout Ireland.

During the next 20 years, he established schools, churches, and monasteries.

He died on March 17, 461 AD, and was probably buried in Downpatrick, County Down, in Northern Ireland.

As with many holidays, symbols have become an important part of the celebration.

Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the concept of the Trinity, referring to the father, son, and Holy Spirit, and this symbol has been associated with the day ever since.

Another legend says that St. Patrick put the curse of God on all the snakes in Ireland, and drove them into the sea, where they drowned.

Some people argue that while it is true that there are no snakes in Ireland, there may not have been any snakes in the country since the end of the ice age, when the country was separated from the rest of Europe.

One theory is that snakes were a pagan symbol, and the snake story represented Patrick’s driving paganism from the country.

St. Patty’s Day is not just for the Irish.

Some say the day has become bigger in the US than it is in Ireland.

In this country, St. Patrick’s Day tends to be a celebration that is enthusiastically observed by the Irish, and the wannabees who call themselves, “Irish for a Day.”

In Ireland, the day has remained more of a religious celebration.

St. Patrick’s Day in this country has very little to do with St. Patrick, and even less to do with religion, but if it is nothing more than a celebration of Irish culture, so be it.

Celebrations in the US date back to 1737, when Boston held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade.

In recognition of the popularity of the holiday, March was proclaimed Irish American Heritage Month by Congress in 1995.

In typical American fashion, the day has grown to huge proportions.

Shamrocks, leprechauns, and the color green take over the landscape.

Some municipalities even dye rivers green to mark the day.

There are parades and music, and pubs across the country begin filling up early in the day.

Traditional Irish fare, such as Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage, highlight many menus.

Pints of Guinness will be lined up on bars everywhere, and Irish toasts and blessings will be recited by people who have never been anywhere near the Emerald Isle.

Complete strangers will lock arms and join in choruses of “Danny Boy,” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” (neither of which, incidentally, was written by an Irishman).

There is no doubt that the Irish, and the Irish-minded, know a thing or two about celebrations.

In fact, St. Patrick’s Day is such a big deal for some people that “Halfway to St. Patty’s Day” is celebrated every September 17.

This has become the official start of the countdown to St. Patrick’s Day.

Enjoy the day, but remember; you can wear green clothes, green beads, and you can even have green hair, but please, no green beer. Green beer is for amateurs or the uninformed, and it is just plain wrong.

When it comes to enjoying a pint, black is beautiful, and on St. Patty’s Day, it is the only way to fly.

Of course, if you do sample a taste of Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, be safe, and get a designated driver, or it could cost you a lot of a different kind of green.

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