March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Growing up, all those years ago, St. Patrick’s Day was one of those days like, Valentine’s Day and Groundhog Day. They aren’t really ‘holidays’ as much as recognized days throughout the year that really don’t mean a lot.

Okay, so maybe to some people Valentine’s Day means something, but to others, it’s just a reminder…

Anyway, St. Patrick’s Day to me meant that a) my birthday was over, b) spring was coming, and c) spring vacation was only a week away!

I suppose that since my ancestors, the Jacklin’s, came from Ireland, that St. Patrick’s Day would mean something to me. We had to wear something green, and at school we’d make shamrocks, colour pictures of rainbows with pots of gold, and little leprechauns.

I always wondered what the various symbols meant, and thanks to various websites now, that information is merely a carriage return away.

The Shamrock

One traditional symbol of Saint Patrick’s Day is the Shamrock.

“Shamrock” is the common name for several different kinds of three-leafed clovers native to Ireland.

The shamrock was chosen Ireland’s national emblem because of the legend that St. Patrick had used it to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the idea that God is really three-in-one: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

Patrick demonstrated the meaning of the Three-in-One by picking a shamrock from the grass growing at his feet and showing it to his listeners. He told them that just as the shamrock is one leaf with three parts, God is one entity with three Persons.

The Irish have considered shamrocks as good-luck symbols since earliest times, and today people of many other nationalities also believe they bring good luck.


The name leprechaun comes from the old Irish word “luchorpan” which means “little body.”

A leprechaun is an Irish fairy who looks like a small, old man about 2 feet tall. He is often dressed like a shoemaker, with a crooked hat and a leather apron.

According to legend, leprechauns are aloof and unfriendly. They live alone, and pass the time making shoes. They also have a hidden pot of gold!

Treasure hunters can often track down a leprechaun by the sound of his shoemaker’s hammer. If the leprechaun is caught, he can be threatened with bodily violence to tell where his treasure is, but the leprechaun’s captors must keep their eyes on him every second. If the captor’s eyes leave the leprechaun – he’s known to trick them into looking away – he vanishes and all hopes of finding the treasure are lost.

The Color Green

Believe it or not, the color of St. Patrick was not actually green, but blue! In the 19th century, however, green became used as a symbol for Ireland. In Ireland, there is plentiful rain and mist, so the ‘Emerald Isle’ really is green all year-round. The beautiful green landscape was probably the inspiration for the national color.

Wearing the color green is considered an act of paying tribute to Ireland. It is said that it also brings good luck, especially when worn on St. Patrick’s Day.

Many long years ago, playful Irish children began the tradition of pinching people who forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day and the tradition is still practiced today.

I’ve noticed lately that people are discussing the idea of wearing ORANGE on St. Patrick’s Day. Basically, the discussion involved the fact that ORANGE and GREEN are both national colours of Ireland. As ORANGE could cause problems in some areas of Ireland, GREEN was the accepted choice.

March 17 was chosen as St. Patrick’s Day, as this is the day it is generally believed that St. Patrick (the person) died. If you search on for “Saint Patrick”, there is a lot of information about the man.

The only thing that I had, up until I did a search, was that it was generally believed that St. Patrick was responsible for driving all the snakes out of Ireland. Below, are a couple of other ‘myths’ surrounding St. Patrick (the man):

St. Patrick banishes all snakes from Ireland

Pious legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island,[chasing them into the sea after they assailed him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. In religious iconography this myth is reminiscent of Siddharta’s experience during the trance in which he became realized as Buddha, inverting the snake Mucalinda’s protection of the spiritualist from rainwater; Patrick being evangelist of Christianity in Ireland, his story also draws on the mythography of the staff of Moses, messenger of Yahweh to gentile Egyptians, becoming a snake, swallowing the snakes manifested by the pharoah of Egypt’s court sorcerors, considered in Christian terms to be pagan religious officials succumbing to the Judeo-Christian God’s superiority.

However, all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes, as on insular “Ireland, New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica…So far, no serpent has successfully migrated across the open ocean to a new terrestrial home” such as from Scotland on the mainland of the neighboring island of Britain, where a few native species have lived, “the venomous adder, the grass snake, and the smooth snake,” as National Geographicnotes, and although sea snake species separately exist. “At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so [there was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish,” says naturalist Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, who has searched extensively through Irish fossil collections and records. The List of reptiles of Ireland has only one land reptile species native to Ireland, the viviparous or common lizard.

The only biological candidate species for appearing like a native snake in Ireland is the slow worm, actually a legless lizard, a non-native species more recently found in The Burren region of County Clare as recorded since the early 1970s, as noted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of Ireland, which suspects it was deliberately introduced in the 1960s. So far, the slow worm’s territory in the wild has not spread beyond the Burren’s limestone region which is rich in wildlife.
One suggestion is that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids during that time and place, as exampled on coins minted in Gaul (see Carnutes). Chris Weigant connects “Big tattoos of snakes” on Druids’ arms as “Irish schoolchildren are taught” with the way in which, in the legend of St. Patrick banishishing snakes, the “story goes to the core of Patrick’s sainthood and his core mission in Ireland.”

St. Patrick uses shamrock in an illustrative parable

Legend (dating to 1726, according to the OED) also credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leafed clover, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of ‘three divine persons in the one God.’ For this reason, shamrocks have definitely become a central symbol for St Patrick’s Day.

Nevertheless, the shamrock was also seen as sacred in the pre-Christian days in Ireland. Due to its green color and overall shape, many viewed it as representing rebirth and eternal life. The number three was sacred to the Morrigan, the “Triple Goddess” of ancient Ireland, most commonly identified as the “Badb”, “Macha”, and “Nemain”.

St. Patrick’s dead ash wood walking stick grows into a living tree

Some Irish legends involve the Oilliphéist, the Caoránach, and the Copóg Phádraig. During his evangelising journey back to Ireland from his parent’s home at Birdoswald, he is understood to have carried with him an ash wood walking stick or staff. He thrust this stick into the ground wherever he was evangelising and at the place now known as Aspatria (ash of Patrick) the message of the dogma took so long to get through to the people there that the stick had taken root by the time he was ready to move on.

St. Patrick speaks with ancient Irish ancestors who were born long before his time

The 12th century work Acallam na Senórach tells of Patrick being met by two ancient warriors, Caílte mac Rónáin and Oisín, during his evangelical travels. The two were once members of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s warrior band the Fianna, and somehow survived to Patrick’s time.

So, there’s your little piece of non-essential, boring history, of St. Patrick’s Day. Impress your friends and family next year with all the information you’ve now learned!!

That’s it, that’s all… for now!


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