Higgins: Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona DuitWritten by Tim Higgins | | email@example.com
Now, for those unfamiliar with the ancient Hibernian tongue, I have in fact wished you, individually, a Happy St. Patrick’s Day in Gaelic. (The phrase is pronounced “La ale-lah pwad-rig son a ditch”.
St Patrick is of course, the patron saint of The Island of Saints and Scholars, more commonly known as Ireland (pronounced ‘areland). The Island of Eire, as it’s known in its native tongue is also known as the Emerald Isle, since the regular and abundant rains produce a countryside dominated by the same lovely shade of green as its crystalline namesake. More fortuitously on this day for those who celebrate it, however, it’s the land where Irish monks first created the nectar of the gods more commonly known as whiskey (probably as a defense against the rigors of their chosen monastic lifestyle) and for the production of the finest product of the brewer’s art — Guinness.
St Patrick himself is said not to have followed quite the strict path that his later monastic brethren in seeking his heavenly reward; instead choosing a rather more tortuous one — walking a fine line between angering the Celtic heathens he sought to convert and incurring the ire of the church he sought to serve. And since this is ostensibly a day held in celebration of his labors, it would seem downright rude not to recount at least in brief, some of his history.
Patrick is in fact quite curious as patron saints go, even Irish ones. Of course this might have something to do with the fact that he wasn’t Irish, but English instead. He came to Ireland for the first time in chains as a captured slave (which is the manner in which the Irish are said to be most fond of entertaining their British neighbors). He escaped his captivity after some six years, however, and returned to his home in Britain, eventually becoming a deacon, taking his ordination vows as a priest and later still becoming a bishop.
He returned to Ireland as a Catholic missionary, working mostly in the north and the west of the island. Very little is actually known of the places where he preached and labored, though legends abound of the locations where he purportedly stopped and the miracles he performed while carrying out his chosen vocation. This missionary work ultimately proved a successful one, and the country remains largely a Catholic one to this day. He was named the patron saint of Ireland by the eighth century.
Now Irish tradition holds that St Patrick used the shamrock to teach the heathen peoples of the island the Catholic mystery of the Holy Trinity, which may explain its popularity as a symbol today. This tale may be more an example of the Irish flair for the telling of a good tale than one of actual doctrinal education, however, as the accounts of the use of this three-leafed white clover only began to appear in popular myth centuries after his death.
The noted Irish knack for exaggeration and overstatement might likewise be held responsible for the famous accounts of St Patrick chasing the snakes from Ireland’s shores, since there have never actually been snakes in Ireland. (In defense of such myths, it should noted that the Irish seldom let the truth get in the way of a good story.)
Regardless of the legendary nature of his time on earth (excused as perhaps no more than a bit of Blarney), or the fact that he was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church, we nevertheless celebrate his feast day every year on March 17, the date believed to be that of his death in 493.
While personal considerations indeed make it a day worthy of all manner of celebration (it’s my granddaughter Maggie’s birthday as well), you’ll likely not find me out and about celebrating. In the spirit of the myth and the man (and the child) however, I am persuaded to offer an Irish toast for all of you on this day of days for the O’hUig’in clan (the ancestral name of the Higgins), and for that paragon of Irish virtue St Patrick:
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand
And may you live in peace and freedom