Wednesday, March 16, 2005

An Padraig La!

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, ostensibly a celebration of one of Ireland’s patron saints. Actually, Ireland has three patron saints; along with Patrick there is Bridgid (or Bride) and Columbcille (or Columba). Just exactly why Ireland needs three patron saints is anyone’s guess. Patrick gets top billing largely because he is credited with converting the Irish to Christianity, although there was already a small community there when he arrived in 432 AD.

The holiday itself has more or less degenerated into nothing more than a drunken fraternity bash with little or no acknowledgement of its origins or its significance in Ireland or the United States (largely a protest against Anglo-Saxon protestant ascendancy and discrimination). Even why the date March 17th is used is a fact that few, if any, of the revelers take into account in their green-tinged debauchery (it is the anniversary of the old boy’s death.) In the not so distant past – my grandparent’s day – it was customary to wear black and a sprig of shamrocks. It was also a day they would have attended mass as it was, and still is, a holy day of obligation in Ireland and until as recently as the late 1970’s, pubs were closed in Ireland on March 17th.

Two things of late have really irritated me about St. Patrick’s Day:

1.) The incorrect use of the diminutive in regards to Patrick’s name. A generation or two ago it would have been thought vulgar and disrespectful to use the diminutive at all, but I’ve noticed recently, they don’t even use the right one. In an advertisement for an “Irish” bar downtown calling itself McFadden’s, it listed its “St. Patty’s Day” activities. Even the most ignorant gobshite should know that there is no St. Patricia. The correct form would be “Paddy”. This derives from the Irish language form of the name Patrick – Padraig. The diminutive or “knick-name” would be Paidín (lit. “Little Patrick”) and would be anglicized as “Paddy”. I would hardly be inclined to patronize a bar that didn’t know the difference.

2.) The use of four-leaf clovers instead of the trifoil shamrock. Without going into a botanical discussion of the preference of Trifolium dubiumas opposed to Trifolium repens, let it suffice to say that for purposes of things relating to St. Patrick, it should be the three leafed variety that is used. The reason? According to legend, Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the heathen Irish. Even Protestants and pagans should know this.

I suppose it is inevitable that any tradition in America is bound to be corrupted by corporate greed in the same manner as Christmas and Easter. Still, it is disheartening, even to a godless infidel such as myself, that the holiday should be stripped of its cultural content and reduced to a grubby occasion to sell trinkets and Budweiser.


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