Saturday, March 17, 2012
Hail The Irish!
March 17, 2012:
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona dhuit!!
With a name like "Duffy" you didn't really expect me not to focus on Paddy today, didja? And I use that word advisedly, because what's in my mind today are several uses of that word, and their resonance throughout my life, and perhaps in my future as well as my past. So, my musings...
"Paddy" used to be a word like "nigger", for those of you who aren't of my heritage. It gave rise to the slang term for the police van, the "Paddy-wagon", the vehicle that used to be driven through the streets at night picking up the "drunken, worthless Irish" and tossing them into the clink, otherwise known in New York where my Irish family settled as the "Paddy-hole". My great-uncles and great-grandfather went looking for work in New York in the 1880's, and each of them experienced the routine posting, set up in front of shops and businesses which were hiring, of large cards printed in both English and Irish that said, "No IRISH need apply." Any meaningless tussle on the streets, whether or not Irishmen were involved in the fighting, was referred to as "getting in a Paddy". So...this word, all by itself, is a highly successful effort at "reclaiming" or "re-branding", since I am pretty sure at least 80 per cent of you who read this didn't know most, or any, of what I just told you.
Yes, "Paddy" as a word has been successfully reclaimed as a nickname for Patrick...at least, about ten per-cent of the time it has been. I have been grazing on FB this morning and if I had a nickel for every time I see "St. Patty's Day" I could stop cringing and go out and buy a pint of Jamison. Seriously, people, it's PADDY, if you must use it. "Patty", by all the geasa of Ireland, is a GIRL'S NAME. Seriously. It's PADDY. Thenkew...
And speaking of "getting in a Paddy", that's happening too, on my FB page and other places. People getting their green knickers in a knot has been happening for more than a week now, concerning the said Patrick...and the snakes. Or the Druids, or the whatever-it-is... I have even seen people wishing one another a "Happy Bring-Back-The-Snakes Day"...and there is a great deal of brouhaha going about, and most of it is pretty juvenile. So, let's pour a dram--Bushmills or Jamison for me, thank you--and let's talk about St. Patrick, and Ireland, and snakes. Or not snakes.
You see, Ireland doesn't have any snakes. "Oh, you say, of course it doesn't. St. Patrick drove them out!"...but you see, even in his time, Ireland didn't have any snakes. The waters around Eire are too cold to have sustained the migration of these slithery beasts from the mainland, and there are no snakes whatsoever that are native to Eire. But, you say, that was a metaphor. It meant he drove out the Pagans, the evil like the serpent in the garden, the Druids...so many of them had snakes tattooed on them...Patrick was trying to Christianize Ireland. He persecuted the Pagans! He drove out the Druids! He is DISSING MAH RELIGIONZ!! Waaaahhhh!!
Nope. Sorry. None of the above. Let's look at this from an actual historical perspective. Yes, St. Patrick returned to Ireland (no, he wasn't from there, but that's another posting) and became first a priest and then a bishop, and did indeed preach Christianity to the native Irish population. But he listened, too. "Celtic Christianity", sometimes referred to as "Culdee Christianity" became an amalgam of Paganism, traditional Irish mythos, and the stories of the Christ. I grew up an Irish Catholic, and so so many of our customs were partly Druidic, partly Pagan, and partly Christian. Patrick didn't "drive the snakes" out of Ireland. But he did interact with the Druids, and much of what he taught was based on Celtic legend. And I, as a Witch of Irish Traditional ancestry and a Culdee, find it just as offensive to hear Pagans dismiss, disrespect, or show hate or enmity for Christianity, as I do when people disrespect or mock Paganism.
And it gets even odder than that. Most of the Pagans I know believe Patrick attempted to persecute and destroy Paganism. Most of the Christians I know believe that when they raise a glass or go to Mass on St. Paddy's, they're celebrating the iconic, essentially Irish, patron saint of Ireland and source of all things Irish Christian. So, they're both surprised when I explain about the interaction between Pagans and Christian monks in early Irish lore, the fact that Patrick wasn't even a native Irishman but a Roman who was born in Scotland to aristocratic parents, and whose first religious influences were both Roman and Celtic Paganism. He showed up in Ireland as a slave--yes, a slave-- and was captive there for a number of years. Escaping Ireland, he went to the mainland, grew up, became a Christian and a priest, and went back to Eire to preach. Maybe he was a bit bitter because he had been enslaved there first. Maybe he taught that no one who did not have Christ could see heaven. Maybe he even used the shamrock to teach the Trinity. No one knows any of those things for sure. But what we do know is that, today, he's an icon. He's about Irish pride. He's a symbol of freedom for the so-long-oppressed Irish. And his name is NOT PATTY.
I wrote a poem about him, long ago, thinking of the irony of this man's having become a symbol of Ireland when it was the land that had enslaved him, and when he hadn't simply decided to love what Eire was in his own time but to change it into something else. And noting how successful that endeavor was...not. Here you go. Pour a glass of your fancy, enjoy the poem, get home safe if ye're drinkin', and Erin go bragh!
Curse, or Blessing?
Craggy-faced as the rocks,
He stood, rooted firm on the shore,
His back to the waters.
It was not his Land,
He, now a Frenchman, no son of Eirinn,
But, he did not care.
In a whisper, he muttered,
While waving his hands in the air,
Maledictions, in French.
'Twas the Auld Ones he cursed,
The draiocht, the fili, the Land,
In the Name of his God.
Waves lapped at his heels.
He noticed, but calmly ignored;
His work was important.
His words fell to silence.
He spun, with a flip of his robes,
And re-entered the boat.
As the oarsmen took oars,
He turned for a pitying look
At the shores he had damned.
No more would the Snakes
Of draoicht and evil designing
Soil Eriu's fair face.
Twixt water and sand,
A ribbon of wrack in the waves
Formed a Guardian rune.
His shadow grew short
As the boat crested waves in the dusk,
Crossed the horizon.
Behind him, the Land
And the Folk, and the Druids he'd cursed
Watched as he left.
And yet, he returns,
Every year, cause for drinking, for dance,
An icon of Ireland.
It's an irony, this.
When you think how the things that he cursed
Now flourish, reborn.
The Druids still live,
All the Gods celebrated by Pagans,
Immrama still dreamt.
And Lá Fhéile Pádraig,
A holiday marking his coming
But not about God.
So, raise him a glass,
This man, who in bringing a curse
Brought "Erin go bragh!"
A chance to be proud
Of our Land, of our kith, of ourselves.
Just hear the Snakes laugh.