I hadn’t intended writing this particular article but it’s one of those impulsive things I sometimes find myself lost in exploration with. I’m obviously shaking off my latest bout of post-viral fatigue if I’m able to concentrate this much and posting this early in the day AND having drafted two batches of poetry – with a triple Limerick already posted at my poetry blog to mark this day’s occasion. As I’d “celebrated” the Holi festival day a couple of Friday’s ago, I couldn’t bare to leave out some cultural reflection on this “Irish” festival day.
I am in small part of Irish descent myself and very proud of that fact – and especially of not being ‘one hundred per cent English’ although born and raised in England I’m as wholly English as any other English person I suppose. However what’s portrayed as ‘english’ culturally doesn’t make much sense to me and has very little significant meaning, for me personally. England’s a funny little place. Going into town on St George’s Day, St George being the patron saint of England, although there might (or might not) be more people around to watch the parade, ‘our’ parade for the patron saint of England, here in Nottingham, is often fronted by a Scottish bagpipe marching band – and St. George’s Day celebrations have little celebratory feel about them – whereas St patrick’s Day, as an observing bystander (once or twice in the years past), felt more like watching New Year’s Eve taking place at lunchtime with drunken stupour and merriment – but a genuine feel of celebration and festival nonetheless – and of course hijacked as a tourist type event/ attraction.
So I started at wiki, with finding out who was Saint Patrick and what’s St Patrick’s Day about?
I was interested to find that St Patrick was born native to mainland Britain c.385AD, apparently to a wealthy Roman-British religious (Christian) family, captured by Irish raiders at the age of sixteen, kidnapping him to work as a shepherd slave in Ireland for six years until his escape. Returning to England he followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and became a Christian priest. He returned to Ireland to convert the pagan population to Christianity, apparently dying on 17th March 461AD and being buried at Downpatrick (although the town was named this much later in history, originally called Rath Celtair after a mythological warrior,later recorded as the town of Dun Um in 130AD, later still known as Dun Lethglaise, before the anglicised name of Downpatrick was adopted in the 13th century AD.).
Downpatrick is a small town about an hour’s drive from Belfast. (“Downpatrick” almost suggests dissatisfaction with the notion of a foreign patron saint – perhaps even Christianity itself – and I wonder if it’s an original ‘irish joke’… perhaps also is the symbolic use of the shamrock as an icon of Irish-ism… of the Ireland afflicted by the influences of the English…)
Pubs in Ireland were prohibited from opening on St Patrick’s Day until the late 1970s. I haven’t seen anything of English St Patrick’s Day celebrations in person for a few years, but they usually seem alcohol-fuelled, involve face-paint, fancy dress and merriment and resonating nothing much that strikes me as Irish in flavour or sentiment so I’ve never been motivated to make any special effort in spite of my genetic slice of Irish ancestry / heritage…
There’s even http://www.st-patricks-day.com/ to find your nearest local events celebrating this day.
Perhaps St. Patrick’s Day has greater meaning to those migrant descendents of Ireland in other continents and countries, or to devout followers of Christian faith, or probably, like anything else, it’s wider popularity is founded in another excuse for capitalism and commercialising cultural histories on the back of iconisation and false religious ideologies.
St Patrick’s Day parades began in New York in 1766 and weren’t adopted in Dublin, Ireland until 1995 – as part of a five day festival of arts and events to boost tourism. In Ireland, St Patrick’s Day was/is a “Holy day of obligation” much alike a Sunday with attendance at church followed by a roast dinner (and not one of corned beef and cabbage as per the americanised-Irish tradition, coined by Time magazine’s Money article as one of the ‘faux-Irish’ practices.)
Perhaps it’s in my part-Irish blood and pagan*(humanist) tainted roots to object in the principles of the celebration of an English saint as the patron saint of Ireland, to glorify the heresies that occurred during the spread of Christianity – the peoples, customs, traditions, arts, literatures and architectures that were destroyed in those early centuries of religious barbarisms and bulldozing in the name of ‘Christianity’ in its various guises. *Original pagan belief systems have for centuries been demonised, branded as ‘cultist’ with popular propoganda aligning spiritualism based in reverence of nature to false notions of human sacrifice etc. by organised ‘religious’ forces often guilty of heinous crimes throughout history – I’m not of pagan faith, I have to say, nor of any particular faith, although I was subjected to typically poor English schooling and educational religious influences that I recognised before the age of eleven as problematic and rooted in evil – I ‘got away’ with not attending religious education classes after the age of twelve as a kind of ‘conscientious objector’ – I’m not quite sure how as it was legally compulsory to be ‘taught’ so-called Religious Education, other than by point blank refusing and no-one willing to physically man-handle me into the classroom. (I went to the school library to read instead of going to those lessons). In my generation and those previous, R.E. involved the narrow brand of christian religion purported as superior to all other belief systems for centuries and ongoing with our government’s insistence that the UK is “a Christian nation” – whatever that’s supposed to mean!
While I TRY to remain respectful of all faith systems I have a lot of difficulty respecting the historical atrocities that christianity seems to have been responsible for – although not usually at the hands and determinations of those individual spiritualists practising such faiths – religion and histories are so complex it’s a mistake to generalise – but I can’t seem to help the anti-Christian flavour that appears to taint my writing whenever I get anywhere vaguely near the concept of Christianity in any of it’s various forms! I also strongly object to the anti-Islamic proliferations of political systems that have been so pronounced in the last decade and a half, even though I am not of Islamic faith and know very little about such things. I know I don’t believe everything I see, hear or read whether in the news or in the history books/articles, that’s about all I know.
I’m not sure either if mention of Islam would be offensive or seem inappropriate within the same article space as this concerning St Patrick’s Day, with Ireland purportedly being a nation of devout Christian faiths, whether Protestant or Catholic – I’ve also read somewhere that at least some of Irish people’s Christian ideologies remain rooted to the original Celtic pagan underpinnings of faith and in all sorts of faiths there are threads of similarity and common principles.
Anyway, that’s as far as my cultural perusal has taken me on the issue – other than unexpectedly influencing me to write more poetry than I’d anticipated. I’d decided to write a Limerick, willing to excuse myself with just one short verse, but came out with three, put them together in what seemed like better order and hey presto my PitterPatterPoetry offering for today sorted. I’d decided not to continue with a longer series of Limericks to reflect the shamrock and the significance of the number three in Irish Christianity / Celtic Pagan belief systems. My next poem took me by surprise as it was totally unplanned reflective response. It’s a draft and my poetry blog doesn’t seem like the best place for it so I’m including here, out of harm’s way.
St. Patrick’s Day (FeFiFoFum…)
As the pub’s coffers spill over
and the drunken spill onto the streets
there’s no sign of holy tradition
just the customary raucus of merriment:
the over-consumption of Guiness;
the glare of gaudy green
and oversized millinery,
fancy dress and tokenist tradition,
keeping in time with the Roman calendar
and falsified ‘real irish’ banter:
‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day!’ some burble,
but how all our histories and customs are a muddle
of lies, mistakes and propoganda kept warm
by the falsehoods of religion and politics
that must NOT be scorned
for on pain of hell’s fury
and hell-fire of god’s hand
delivered by power-systems
with roots in far lands
and anchored in aristocratic hierarchies
and histories that have no place
in my lifetime, my lifeline or my genes,
they provide for me no sustainance,
English hertitage seems obscene.
To say that as an englishman,
is that a token of descent?
For fe-fi-fo-fum, for hail all bloody Marys:
will english culture e’er root in common sense!
On a final note or few, regarding St.Patrick’s Day, possibly the strangest thing I came across was a Crayola Experience coloring page of what looked like a clown without a face, inviting to print out and draw the leprechaun’s face and colour in the picture and wondered if anyone does! There’s also apparently a lucrative industry of party-type items and souvenirs judging by pics on twitter etc – including those mentioning Saint Padraig – the Irish version of the name Patrick – ironic if Saint Patrick was English and never called Padraig! Oh, and I’d love a look at this book inspired by Ireland, if anyone wants to surprise me for my birthday in a couple of weeks or even next Christmas 😉 Happy St Patrick’s Day!