How to explain this? I can’t. It was fun to write, anyway.
My friend Steve Cagle, then the assistant features editor at The Daily Reflector (and now the Greenville, N.C., daily’s associate editor, newspaper design and production), was kind enough to add art to this piece, including the shot of me in the hat I apparently was asking for.
Originally published March 17, 2005, in The Daily Reflector | (c) 2005 Cox Newspapers, Inc.
Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig oraibh, ya’ll
Which is to say happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Today is that magical day when a short guy in a green-felt suit still won’t get free shots of Bushmill’s at any bar in town. (Costumes cost money. Learn from my previous years’ mistakes.)
Today is also that magicless midpoint between Valentine’s Day and Easter that Hallmark has yet to figure out how to properly exploit into a line of cards: “Roses are red/ Shamrocks are green/ Today it’s your liver/ Tomorrow, your spleen.” Much work is still needed.
‘Tis likewise the day when even the likes of a Bernie Mac or a Yo-Yo Ma can claim a touch o’ the Irish in them, should they so choose. After all, the real St. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish, which just goes to show you what a few centuries and a good press agent can accomplish.
So today, be Irish already. Claim even that you’ve read James Joyce’s infamous literary quagmire, “Finnegan’s Wake.” Since no one else has either, you should be in the clear.
In other words, live it up a wee bit. After all, the real point behind St. Patrick’s Day is to have an excuse to drink buckets of green, watery beer that no self-respecting Irish gent would consent to use even for watering his window-pot flowers. But remember to act like this strange little “holiday” that doesn’t even allow you out of work is not just a verdant disguise for getting all brewskied up, but is instead a celebration of a prevailing thread in our nation’s rich tapestry.
But I make light. St. Patrick’s Day and the symbols associated with it – the color green, the shamrock, the leprechaun, good luck, a touch of the blarney – are integral to our culture. So let’s take a quick look at these five things, and the man behind the day.
St. Patrick the historical figure lived, of course, in Sherwood Forest, where he stole from the rich and gave to the poor, and spoke, like the actor Kevin Costner, with a strangely Midwestern American accent. He traveled in the company of a devoted band of Merry Men, the most famous being Lil Jon (along with Jon’s own crew, the Eastside Boyz, sometimes featuring Usher and Ludacris).
OK, that’s not quite the right story. But St. Paddy’s Day truly is all about the green, the flagrant color of rural Ireland. Robin Hood wore it, and Lil Jon is certainly rolling in it lately, seemingly out of sheer luck, since he possesses no visible MC skills whatsoever.
So there we have the green, and even a hint of luck. Pretty easy so far.
As to St. Patrick the man: He was born in the late fourth century, and is believed to have actually been Scottish or English. His name, according to many sources, was Maewyn Succat; the Pat part comes from his later Romanicized name, Patricius.
Some of the “real” stuff that’s reported about him even has the whiff of legend to it: As a child, St. Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. There imprisoned, he reportedly dreamed of having seen God, who provided a detailed escape plan.
St. Patrick would later join a French monastery, training for a dozen years. Upon becoming a bishop, he had another portentous dream, this time calling him back to Ireland to spread the word of God.
Jump ahead three centuries, and Ireland’s patron saint is now widely proclaimed to have used the favored pagan symbol of the three-leaf shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity, and to provide a template for Lucky Charms cereal.
So, keeping track: Green. Luck. Shamrocks.
St. Patrick is also famous for the holy curse he’s said to have put on all the venomous snakes in the land, driving them into the sea, where they drowned. Many people get this part confused with that Pied Piper deal with the rats. But no. Here it’s just snakes.
However, neither snakes nor rats are part of our list. So let’s move on.
Patrick’s death on March 17, AD 461, became a Catholic feast day, but through the centuries has morphed largely into a secular celebration full of all these secular symbols.
Which brings us to that little fellow so deeply imbedded in Irish lore, the leprechaun, who brings you gold, and luck, unless you’re me in a local bar. In which case you just have to pay your tab.
So leprechauns you can now add to the list.
St. Patrick can also claim no credit for the idea of blarney, or its namesake, the blarney stone.
For those unfamiliar, blarney is not some peculiar way to say baloney, the misspelling of a popular luncheon meat. Neither is it a variation on Barney, the contemporary purple-felt cultural nightmare who probably gets his drinks for free.
That said, baloney is very polite term for those meat “by-products” they actually put in bologna. And Barney is a by-product of some peculiar need to punish ourselves for having kids, who now sing that song with the “With a great big kiss and hug from me to you” line every time we finally manage to get a Led Zeppelin verse back into our addled heads.
The blarney stone actually has a lot to do with kissing as well, and with good fortune, of a sort.
So there you go: Green. Luck. Shamrocks. Leprechauns. Blarney.
But just so you come away from reading this with an actual fact or two: The blarney stone is set within the wall of a 15th-century castle in the Irish village of Blarney, in County Cork.
One legend behind the stone is that an old woman cast a spell on it as a gift to a king who had saved her life. Upon kissing the stone, His Majesty would magically be able to speak with sugary conviction.
In other words, he would be able to really shoot the poop, royally speaking.
People now travel great distances to prostrate themselves in front of this hard-to-reach slab of rock, and pucker up. This practice is thought to buy the kisser a bit of good luck – assuming the person who previously planted one wasn’t incubating a nice little flu virus.
So now you’re ready to get out there and really spread some St. Paddy’s Day joy.
Try this: Should you see someone you’ve never met not wearing green today, sneak up behind them and do what tradition demands: Thoroughly wet one of your index fingers in your mouth, then stick the slippery digit in one of their ears.
Then you might wanna run away. Otherwise, you may find out pretty abruptly whether you do, in fact, possess the luck of the Irish.
Betcha you wish you’d just pinched them now, huh?