17 marzo, 2011

Ireland and St. Patrick's Day

We have just spent a few days in Ireland, time enough to fall in love with that amazing land and her wonderful people.

Luckily, next summer, we are going back to the Emerald Isle with a group of "sharkies".

So it's a good time to let them know a little bit about their destination. And we think that the video "Ireland: Deconstructed" (by History.com) is a good starting point.

... and there is no better ocassion to talk about Ireland than today as this is the day when everybody is Irish, the day when Irish people celebrate their patron saint, St. Patrick.

Video transcrip

After the dead of winter, St. Patrick's day is a welcomed sign of spring. A day for wearing of the "Green" and the Irish and non-Irish alike. Its a celebration of the Emerald Isle Patron Saint. 

The story of St. Patrick's day goes back to a 5th century Britain, where a 16 years boy Maewyn Succat, was kidnapped by Irish marauders. He remained a shepperd slave in Ireland for 6 years, until a vision directed him to escape. Back home in Britain, Succat had another vision beckoning him to help the people of Ireland. So he took his vows as a Priest, adopted the Christian name Patrick and in 432 AD returned to Ireland on a mission.

In his autobiography, The Confesso, Patrick wrote about converting the Irish to Christianity while building schools and monasteries along Ireland's North and West coasts. One popular myth has Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. The truth is there were never snakes on the island, this is probably a metaphor for Patrick cleansing the island of paganism. Another legend has Patrick using the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity. This legend is possible, but Patrick never wrote about it.

So why does the holiday fall on March 17th? Supposedly its the day Patrick died in 461 AD. Since then, Irish Christian have marked the anniversary as a Holy Day. Beginning in the Middle Ages, Irish Catholics would close shop and attend Church to honor the Feast of St Patrick and it was time to celebrate. St. Patrick day falls within Lent, the season before Easter when Catholic give up their vices as penance. The Feast of St Patrick was a one day reprise when Irishmen could down a pint or two of ale -- this custom really took off.

The first St Patrick's day in Colonial America occured in Boston in 1737 with a parade organized by The Charitable Irish Society. New York City followed in 1762. Today New York's 5th Avenue Parade is America's most famous, largest and rowdiest St Patty's day tradition.

During the 1840 when Ireland was starving from the patoto famine, millions were forced to leave. The mass migration sent Irish to Canada, Austalia and America. As the Irish settled in their new countries, they brought along old customs and invented a few more. In the United States it became customary to wear green on St Patrick's day. Toward the end of the 19th century the smell of corned beef wafted from Irish-American neighborhoods. The traditional Irish meal was boiled bacon and patotoes, but in the States immigrants could find a cheap piece of beef, tenderize it with brine and slow cook it with cabbage. The dish remains a delicious Patty's Day tradition. 

As the Irish in America gained influence in politics and culture, their exclusive holiday became a national recognized celebration. And it all becan over 1500 years ago when a boy was torn from his family. Little could he know that his life would inspire parades, fashion and yes, the hoisting of a few pints to toast his special day!