Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day - From An Irish-American Perspective

I'm in the middle of research.  This is taking me very close to Irish Culture and also far away.  But in the spirit of Irish Americans and Irish pride, I'll offer a few tid bits that I've discovered recently.

St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated to some extent for approximately 1000 years in order to honor St. Patrick's life. There are theories postulating that several bishops' lives were rolled into one legend about a single person, St. Patrick, however there was at least one historical person named Patrick.  This is because while there are many legends and stories about the saint, there are few primary sources to support claims about his life.

When you think about St. Patrick's day, usually the first thing we think of is the shamrock.  This actually references a parable the saint used to explain the Trinity when Patrick spoke with the Irish people.  It seems strange to think that a Christian reference would lose so much of its meaning, and yet become such a cultural icon. 

While the holiday is generally associated with the saint himself in Ireland, the Irish diaspora uses St. Patrick's day as more of a celebration of Irish culture and the nation of Ireland.  Often people will say that anyone can be Irish on St. Patrick's day, though someone who is ethnically Irish might be upset with such sentiment. One of the most important symbols of Ireland is not in fact a shamrock, but the harp.  If you've ever been fortunate enough to listen to Gaelic, you know it is a musical language full of beautiful vowels and rolling consonants.  If you've read anything about Celtic culture, you also know that poetry and song has always been a part of life.  The harp has been a staple instrument for Celtic music for a long time, being one of the oldest instruments in the world.  It's on the label of everyone's favorite Irish beer. Harps are much more universal than shamrocks.

I've always been a harp kind of girl, never having been Catholic, but always having been part Irish. For me, someone in the diaspora, St. Patrick's day is more about celebrating Irish culture and the rich and beautiful history of the Emerald Isle. So I'll listen to some fiddle, harp, and maybe some hand drums.  I'll drink a nice dark stout, and I'll dream of the Fir Bolg and Tuatha de Danaan. Also I'll wish my sister-in-law a happy birthday.  Seems like a reasonable plan for an Irish-American.

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