Monday, 16 March 2015


“May the saddest day of your future be no worse
 than the happiest day of your past.” – Irish blessing

Saint Patrick’s Day, celebrated today, is a predominantly Irish holiday honouring the missionary credited with converting the Irish to Christianity in the 5th century AD. He was born around 373 AD in either Scotland (near the town of Dumbarton) or in Roman Britain (the Romans left Britain in 410 AD). His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat.  He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. During his six-year captivity, while he worked as a shepherd, he began to have religious visions, and found strength in his faith. He finally escaped, going to France, where he became a priest, taking on the name of Patrick.

When he was about 60 years old, St. Patrick travelled to Ireland to spread the Christian word. Reputedly, Patrick had a winning personality, which helped him to convert the fun-loving Irish to Christianity. He used the shamrock, which resembles a three-leafed clover, as a metaphor to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Saint Patrick allegedly drove all snakes out of Ireland.  This may be an allegory, as the snake was one of the revered pagan symbols.

Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated all around the world in countries with a large Irish migrant population (e.g. Australia and the USA). In these countries people of Irish sympathy wear green and have parties. Green is associated with Saint Patrick’s Day because it is the colour of spring, Ireland, and the shamrock. Leprechauns are also associated with this holiday, because they figure so prominently in Irish folklore. Leprechauns look like small, old men (about 60 cm tall), often dressed like a shoemaker, with a cocked hat and a leather apron. According to legend, leprechauns are aloof and unfriendly, live alone, and pass the time making shoes... They also possess a hidden pot of gold. Treasure hunters can often track down a leprechaun by the sound of his shoemaker’s hammer. If caught, a leprechaun can be forced (with the threat of bodily violence) to reveal the whereabouts of his treasure, but the captors must keep their eyes on him every second. If the captor’s eyes leave the leprechaun (and he often tricks them into looking away), he vanishes and all hopes of finding the treasure are lost.

What’s good luck on Saint Patrick’s Day? Finding a four-leaf clover (that’s double the good luck it usually is)! Wearing green: School children have started a little tradition of their own - they pinch classmates who don’t wear green on this holiday. Kissing the Blarney Stone: The Blarney Stone is a stone set in the wall of the Blarney Castle tower in the Irish village of Blarney. Kissing the stone is supposed to bring the kisser the gift of persuasive eloquence (“blarney”). The castle was built in 1446 by Cormac Laidhiv McCarthy (Lord of Muskerry) - its walls are 18 feet thick (necessary to thwart attacks by Cromwellians and William III's troops). Thousands of tourists each year still visit the castle. The origins of the Blarney Stone’s magical properties are not clear, but one legend says that an old woman cast a spell on the stone to reward a king who had saved her from drowning. Kissing the stone while under the spell gave the king the ability to speak sweetly and convincingly. It is difficult to reach the stone as it is between the main castle wall and the parapet. Kissers have to lie on their back and bend backward (and downward), holding iron bars for support.

An Irish blessing to take with you today:
            May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow
            And may trouble avoid you wherever you go.

Ireland became independent in 1921 after a series of fierce struggles.  Dublin is the capital city and other cities include Limerick, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Sligo. The cool wet climate ensures that this is truly an “emerald island” of rich pastures with much livestock, meat and dairy products being produced in abundance.  Lead, zinc, peat, oil and natural gas reserves are also being exploited.  The population is about 4 million and the area is about 69,000 square km.

Here is the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” sung by Michael Londra to a backdrop of a video of Ireland

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