Monday, March 17, 2014
St. Patricks Day. What is Myth? What is Fact?
Posted by Anna Goodwin
Today is St. Patrick's Day. As a writer I am always interested and constantly checking on what is myth and what is fact. Of course sometimes no one seems to know, especially when a person lived hundreds of years ago and record keeping was minimal. Most of history was word of mouth. That's a little like playing the game telephone when you were young. "Mother" may turn into "father," and "house" may turn into "mouse." I guess what I'm saying is always take these stories with the proverbial grain of salt.
The person we now call St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, maybe was born in 385 A.D or 415 A.D and maybe died on March 17th, (St. Patrick's Day) 461 A.D. or 493 A.D. Was he Irish as most people believe? No. He was born in Britain though no one seems to be sure where. Maybe England, maybe Wales.
Actually, although many people believe he was poor, Maewa Succat was born into an aristocratic family. His parents were Romans living in Britain in charge of the colonies. But here comes the interesting part. At the age of 16, Irish raiders or maybe pirates, kidnapped him and took him to Ireland where they sold him to a farmer to work in the fields. He became a sheepherder. For six years he was what we would probably now call a slave. At the time Ireland worshipped a pagan God, but Britain had already converted to Christianity. One day Maewa heard what he believed to be God's voice inside of him say that it was time for him to return to Britain. He escaped and returned to Wales to his family. Shortly after he went to France where he became a Catholic priest. He took Patrick as his Christian name.
Again Patrick heard God's voice, this time telling him to go back to Ireland and preach Christianity. Patrick did as he was told. He became a missionary and he and his followers brought thousands to Christ. They built many churches. Even today, the Irish consider him to be the person who brought Christianity to Ireland and they honor him as a religious figure in their churches and also as a cultural icon.
According to some, St. Patrick used a shamrock to show the native people what he meant when he spoke of the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The three leaves. Was that really true? No one seems to know for sure. According to some the shamrock did not exist in Ireland but indeed the clover leaf did. On the other hand some believe the shamrock was the symbol of the cross. So who's to tell?
And then there is the story that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. But we have since found out that no snakes ever lived in Ireland. As a matter of fact, Ireland is an island and the passageway between Britain and Ireland is so cold no snakes would have survived. I asked myself why some people had created the myth and what I came up with was that indeed there were no snakes in Ireland when the myth began, and because humans always need to make sense of things, people decided to attribute it to the great hand of God through St. Patrick. But this is what I learned. Apparently snakes had become the symbol for paganism in the church. And so the myth was born. Interesting.
What we know today is that alcohol always seems to flow freely on St. Pattie's Day. Why? Sounds strange seeing as it is a religious holiday. I thought it was just because that's the way the Irish were. Heavy drinkers. That to some extent may be true but there is more to it. March 17th often occurs during Lent. One thing you are to give up for Lent is alcohol. But the church gave a dispensation for St. Patrick's Day and wow! People have taken advantage of it. The holiday has turned into an alcohol fueled revelry, parades, celebration, and festivals. And by the way the parades did not originate in Ireland. They started in America in 1737.
In 1996, the Irish decided to begin a day of festivals in Dublin to attract tourists. By 2009 that one day had turned to five days and about a million people attended.What fun! I'm glad the Irish have a sense of humor and like to enjoy life. Without it life could definitely become a drag.
Who cares what is fact or myth?
Guess what I am making for dinner tonight? Is it true that corned beef brisket and cabbage began in Ireland? Not really, but if I keep going I'll never end this blog.
The luck of the Irish be with you dear readers.