TITLE: Further Wearin' Out the Green
DATE: 3/17/2005 04:14:00 PM
My Irish Family Crest:
Histories of the surname are sparse, and most of them come from sites that want me to pay $19.95 for a handsome heirloom plaque. I believe there's a handsome heirloom plaque I have a color copy of somewhere in my family history files that tells the supposed history of the Garry / McGarry / Mac Fearadaigh clan, but I really don't trust it. What I know for sure is that two people married in their 40's emigrated to Illinois in the 1840's and worked on the railroad, as I mentioned. They had their first child in their 50's! No word of a lie...we have the birth certificate.
...Also, Patrick Belton gives some interesting insights into St. Patrick:
To clear away a few misconceptions about Patrick: he was not a mitre-bearing, green-cladf igure, forcing the exile of a put-out garden snake from his Irish home between bites of corned beef. Episcopal mitres date only to the twelfth century; for green, try rather blue, the colour attached to saint and nation from the early mediaeval period onward; for corned beef, instead think pig products: perhaps boiled bacon joint, or apiece of boiled salted pork, followed by cabbage and come morning a breakfast pudding based on reconstituted pigs' blood. Ireland is not the Middle East. As far as snakes, the third-century geographer and grammarian Solinus notes Hibernia has been distinctly lacking in its snake complement since at least his time. Part of the reason for theisland's herpetological deprivation derives precisely from its hibernian climate; though in 1876, a Phoenix Park employee named John Supple nonetheless managed to die from a python bite in the Zoological gardens; his family must have had a difficult time explaining that one.
We should also do away with leprechauns here too. As a self-respecting minor pagan character, An Lobaircin, a decidedly uncheerful fairy cobbler, would have had nothing whatsoever to do with a saint's day. He eventually merged, somewhere in the sexually liberated West Village, with the stage Irishman of whom we'll be speaking later. Seamróg or trifolium repens has at least got a distinguished ifroyalist pedigree-it is mentioned in an English text in 1571 and an Irish one in 1707; its wearing on the lapel in connection with St Patrick's Day dates to 1681; and it was adopted by Protestants andCatholics alike of the Volunteers at the time of Grattan's Parliamentin 1782, and by the equally nonsectarian United Irishmen in 1798. The Irish Guards, formed in 1900 by Queen Victoria to commemorate Irish
receive shamrock every 17th March from a member of the Royal Family. They originally drew Princess Alexandra in 1901, and until recently were festooned at the hands of HM the Queen Mum. As far as green beer, it was until 1960 impossible to find alcohol on St Patrick's Day,unless you were willing to brave exposure to moving trains or the dogsat the Irish Kennel Club-and Guinness, you'll note, is black.
So stripped of mitre, green cloak, and decorative garden snake, what ancient Patrick shivers underneath? There are two extant writings of the man, the Confessions and Letter to Coroticus, from which we know the sum total of what we know about him. These were embellished a great deal in subsequent centuries; in 807 or 808, Ferdomnach, scribe of Armagh, incorporates into the Book of Armagh a fanciful Acts by one Muirchu Maccu Machteni, as well as the oldest extant copy of the Confessions; this Muirchu, like another hagiographer named Tíreachán, likely wrote in the mid-seventh century. Modern Patrick studies probably begin with Irish-born Cambridge historian John Bury and his1905 Life, who treats Patrick and his still murkier predecessor Palladius as islands in the darkness of fifth century BritishChristianity, and starts from the context of what is known about thelate Roman empire in the British Isles. In 1942, Thomas O'Rahilly gave a lecture entitled "The Two Patricks" to the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, which demonstrated the works of Muirchu and Tíreachán to be fanciful products of the mediaeval imagination. The Patrick of the Confessions and Letters is a humble voice,sensitive and prone to injury at the hands of his critics, ashamed of his disrupted education, capable at the end of his life of pained defence against his detractors as well as humble thanksgiving to his God. Like that other author of a Confessions, his youth bears some painfully remembered sin; yet his exegete E.A. Thompson cautions appropriately "impurity - let us call it 'sex' - is almost (though not quite) as remote as humour from the word, and thoughts, of St Patrick."
There has been a minority tradition inclined to view him as a proto-Joyce, and of all other modern Irish literature, too; both born at the periphery of a disintegrating empire, living in exile, inconfident, caught between worlds, and having recourse to stratagems, irony, and wit. Though amusing, this looking to Patrick for the wellsprings of all subsequent Celtic literature is misguided. He is simple, pious, comparatively unlettered, and as far as imaginable from the man who would create Kinch the jejune Jesuit and write a book with so many enigmas and puzzles to keep the professors busy for centuries.One wonders, still, how they would have gotten on. After his death Patrick went into politics. His development in this direction, along with his cult, were first spurred by bishops of Armagh seeking to establish their primacy over the whole of Ireland, and who conveniently cast Patrick as the first Bishop of Armagh. The Vatican would also support the cult of Patrick, as the claim of his episcopal consecration in Gaul bolstered papal claims to jurisdictionover the comparatively autonomous Celtic church. Later, Irish Protestants would themselves point to the lack of mention of the papacy in Patrick's writings to make the claim that he was not only the first Irish Christian, but also the first Irish Protestant (leading in the end to a number of surreal murals on My Lady's Road,Belfast; though lacking the level of high wit enshrined in the intramural exchange 'No Pope here' 'Lucky Pope'). In the courtly Georgian Dublin of the eighteenth century, St Patrick provided asymbol to the Anglo-Irish ascendancy as they evolved a rather independent minded nationalism; the Crown responded by doing its best to co-opt the holiday and them, with annual dinners in Dublin Castle
and George III's modification of the Honours system to introduce Knights of the Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick.
Having been passed around by all other political comers, Patrick would then in the second half of the nineteenth century become more familiarly a symbol for Catholic nationalism in its Home Rule and Fenian incarnations. Nowadays, his symbolic legitimacy is still contested between Republicans and Loyalists in Belfast (who being parading sorts anyhow, each have their own St Patrick's parades), and in New York by gay rights groups and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (giving birth in 1991 to the memorable phrase "two, four, six, eight, how do you knowSaint Patrick's straight?"). Then, of course, there is the politics of support for Noraid, never very distant from the American parades. If stage Irish conceptions of green beer and sentimental recollections of discrimination represent two members of an Irish American trinity, the third is doubtless support for "the boys." In 1983, Irish Northern Aid Committee leader Michael Flannery was elected grand marshal of the New York parade; in 1985, active Noraid supporter Peter King as grand marshal made the entire parade about the IRA, from his opening speech to the end. The website of the Connecticut Ancient Order of Hibernians manages to link both to Noraid and to the Republican News, an IRA mouthpiece, making them under most normally applied standards apologists for terrorism, or something very close to it.
As far as Saint Patrick's Day goes, the festival of Patrick's 'falling asleep' dates at least to the ninth century, and receives mention in the Book of Armagh. It is first listed in Irish legal calendar in1607, and added to the Church calendar by Pope Urban VIII in 1631. Thefirst religious parades held (and originally by Irish Protestantsserving the King) to commemorate the feast day were in the UnitedStates, in Boston dating to 1737 and in New York to1762.