Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick's day as we know it is a uniquely American phenomenon. We have created a holiday in which everyone wears green, drinks themselves into a stupor, and brags that they are 1/16 Irish.

The real holiday, it seems to me, is a commemoration of a passionate and dedicated man, St. Patrick, and a unique and marvelous People, the Irish.

Irish Christianity is quite unique and I've always found it rather appealing, as is Irish culture generally

More importantly, St. Patrick's day is the celebration of Ireland's Patron saint, Patrick.

Not much is known about St. Patrick. But he did write a book, The Confessions, which I find splendid reading. In it Patrick explains his own experience as a slave in Ireland. He was not originally from Ireland, but only went there as a slave. Eventually he escaped, years later returning to Ireland as a bishop. Apparently the motivation for his return was, in part, to transform Ireland into a land of freedom.

St. Patrick, almost uniquely before the 19th century, opposed all slavery. Having been a slave himself, St. Patrick could not stomach this awful institution. He also had, for his time, unusually egalitarian views about women.

Check out this fascinating piece from Slate about the life and passion of Saint Patrick.

This video from the History Channel in 2007 is a fine introduction to the history and meaning of the Holiday

So instead of drinking ourselves into a coma, or glibly pretending to be Irish, let us remember Saint Patrick's passion for a world in which slavery is ended, and people live together in peace. Let us equally remember the pursuit of freedom that marks the Irish people as a whole, and then perhaps we can finally really be proud of that 1/16 of us that is Irish.


  1. Ok Doc,
    Being 100% Irish (how does one prove that?)I still get mortified when I read/hear of the continued clash with the folks of Northern Ireland. One would have thought that rational thinking would have prevailed.
    Could you give your views on the ongoing upheaval?

  2. 100% Irish! Cool! My heritage is a mix of German, Dutch, Irish, and French. Although Irish is the largest dose. My brother did a genealogy for his high school senior project, and we are something like 30% Irish, if that even makes sense! But that aspect of my heritage as always had the most appeal to me. In fact, my dream trip one day is Ireland.

    Yes, the violence in Northern Ireland has erupted recently to a degree not seen in some time. It's very sad.

    I don't know a great deal about the intricacies of the ongoing conflict. But here is what I suspect:

    The root of the conflict is that protestantism was brought to Ireland with English Imperialism and oppression. So, with some justification, the Irish saw Catholicism as the native Irish faith, and Protestantism as the faith of the conquering empire, and worse those native Irish who assimilated to empire.

    And once this division was planted it was planted deep, still causing sorrow and bloodshed today.

    How do we fix it? That is very hard to say. It's easy to preach love, peace and brotherhood - and correct to! - but so hard to figure out the logistics of implementing it.


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