IRELAND UNTIL ETERNITY
Éire go Bráth
What’s the craic behind Saint Patrick’s Day? I’ve never felt akin to what has always presented to me as an Irish Heritage Day. With all the reveling, parades, and green ale, bar-hopping debauchery, it’s no wonder that visions of leprechauns chasing rainbows, arising from pots of gold coins, headline modern-day digital images on the seventeenth of March.
My father always told me that we were hardly more than a “smidgen” of Irish, and there were no known Irish relatives in either my own generation, nor his. My mother was 100% Magyar. The only Irish folk known to me in close circles, were the Irish kin (by marriage) through my cousins. Before the age of home sputum kits painted molecular chains of relational codes, many foreign transplants of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries melded into the golden pot of American soil, banking on the promise of good work, sustainable family life, and prosperity. But as the generations outstretched the unyielding time-line of presence, lineages became intertwined. While strands of DNA plaited into new complex identities, ancestral ties faded into the distant threads of those who brought us here.
Two-years ago, I learned that I am 9% Irish. The expression of surprise on my father’s face, when he learned his green Éire pedigree comprised 40% of his plasma, was priceless. For all of his eighty years, he has identified himself as mostly German, English and a little Welsh, which still remains true, but pales in comparison to his chromosome markers highlighting the Emerald Isle. More specifically, the village of Schull, in the county Cork, part of the Munster region of Ireland, and eight other administraive counties. This lineage stems from the paternal line he never knew, as his parents separated during WWII, when he was a young boy.
St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious observance in 1631, when the Catholic church established a feast day to honor the fifth century missionary, Patricius. Lore accounts that “Patrick” is the young man who drove the Pagans, metaphorically the snakes, out of Ireland and was lauded for converting the formally Roman, druid-ruled Isle to Christianity. Because “Feast Day” fell during lent each year, people through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began to heighten it as an excuse to take a break from the ritual abstinence of their pleasures between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
As the Irish population flowed into the United States, the “holiday” took on the more modern, secular conventions that we observe today. What was once a somber mass up to the mid-20th Century in Dublin, was transformed into the spectacle of parties and parades, which began in Boston on March 17, 1737, when a group of elite, Presbyterian, Irishmen came together to celebrate “The great Irish saint” in the name of Irish Nationalism, over a New England Boiled dinner, (The Irish-American thanksgiving of corned beef and cabbage). With the wide-spread arrival of television, displaying all the fun to be had in American streets and pubs, kelly-green shamrocks were imprinted into the commercialized American calendar, along with orange Halloween pumpkins (another holiday of Irish Pagan origin), and red Valentine’s Day hearts , (yet, another Roman holiday celebrataing a saint, theorized to have been merged with the “Christianized” Pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia).
Before the Irish rebellion of 1798 against British rule, the color most associated with St. Patrick’s Day was blue. But during the uprising, Irish rebels wore green in opposition to the red of the British army. Ever since, green has become the emblematic color of Irish solidarity and pride.
Green Beer was first made by a Bronx, New York Doctor in 1914 with a ferrocyanide powder used to whiten clothing, a blue iron salt. If this sounds too risky, play it safe and throw back a Guinness, a shot of the Jameson, or enjoy a slice of soda bread with a dáileog of Irish cream in your brew.
To all the Farrels, Pflums, McAuliffe’s, Twohigs, Rooneys and Donovan’s, whose steadfast courage, high spirits, and genomes persist through centuries, to keep the lot going, I raise a tumbler in the name of St. Patty and good health —
Sláinte and Éire go Bráth!
© 2021 by Deborah A Garcia
Image by Deborah Garcia