Saturday, March 17, 2012

Of St. Patrick, Leprechauns, And The Wearing O’ The Green: An Irish Tale.

Okay, so I don’t know how tall St. Patrick was, but I’m sure he wasn’t a leprechaun. As a priest, he probably didn’t look very green, unless he had a bad stomach bug. And he wasn’t even born in Ireland. So what’s the story?
St. Patrick was born in England and at the age of sixteen he was captured, made a slave and forced to work as a herdsman in Ireland. Six years later he supposedly “heard a voice”  telling him to run away, so he did. And so, back to England he went. A few years later he became a bishop and heard another voice telling him to go back to Ireland so, of course, he did. He converted many pagans, including noble and royal women, to Christianity, convincing them to become nuns. It’s interesting to note that in those early days of Christianity it was a bit easier to become a saint. In the first century not every saint was canonized by the pope. All you had to do was be considered very holy and, as in St. Patrick case, have your local diocese do the canonization. He has never been formally canonized by any pope. 
 Probably the most well known legend of St. Patrick is the one where he drove the snakes out of Ireland, but I question this story, as there are still plenty of lawyers slithering about. (Sorry, but mention snakes, and a lawyer joke is bound to surface.) The truth is Ireland never had snakes to begin with. Some believe this may have been symbolic, as the Druids donned serpent tattoos on their arms.
Another legend is about how Patrick taught the pagans about Christianity by using a shamrock’s leaves to represent the holy trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the stem as the one God. This is from where the expression “The wearing o’ the green" comes. Shamrocks are worn on lapels during the feast of St. Patrick.
So this covers St. Patrick and how he came to be in Ireland, and the wearing of green...but leprechauns?  Leprechauns are fairy shoemakers with magical powers who hide their money in pots of gold at the ends of rainbows and love to dance.
“Because of their love of dancing they (the Fae) will constantly need shoes.” – William Butler Yeats
 How do leprechauns fit in to the St. Patrick scenario? The fact is they don’t.
All Christian holidays have fused the secular with the non-secular, and in modern times, St. Patrick’s Day has come to represent pride in the Irish culture in general. Now all things Irish are celebrated. So, kiss the Blarney stone if you want to be a silver-tongued devil, drink your green beer, and wear your “kiss me I’m Irish” button. All are welcome, even the leprechauns…if you can find them. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
 “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back…” –Irish Blessing

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