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No Snakes in the Grass (Posted On: Monday, March 15, 2010)

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Saturday, March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. This holiday of sorts commemorates the patron saint of Ireland, Bishop Patrick, who in the fifth century spent more than thirty years working as a missionary to convert the native pagan population to Christianity. Tradition has it that Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland, but scholars obviously see this as a metaphor for his work. No species of snakes were ever native to the Emerald Isle.

In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is regarded as both the greatest national and religious holiday of the year, comparable to Canada Day and Christmas. The celebrations first became grand public events here in North America in the mid 1700s when Irish immigrants of Boston and New York took to the streets for parades, feasting and dancing. Today, all those of Irish ancestry, and everybody else who wants to be Irish at least for a day, come together and hold a gigantic party complete with Irish songs, foods, those funny little poems called limericks, Irish jigs, plus the wearing of the green. And as always, the drinking of the green… beer, that is.

A lot of Irish folklore is associated with St. Patrick’s Day. However, not much can actually be substantiated.

One traditional icon of the holiday though which stems from a quite factual Irish tale is the SHAMROCK. Apparently St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock as a teaching aid to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity. Three is Ireland’s magic number. Everything good in Ireland comes in threes. Love, Valour and Wit. Faith, Hope and Charity. Hence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St, Patty’s followers adopted the notion of wearing a shamrock on his feast day as a tribute to their teacher and mentor. To this day, anyone who finds a four-leaf clover is blessed with The Luck of The Irish.

Then there’s the Little People of Ireland: LEPRECHAUNS. These are small make-believe fairies. Elves - about two feet tall with pointed ears and turned up toes, usually dressed like a shoemaker wearing a cocked green hat and a leather apron. Leprechauns live alone in tree trunks and pass their time making shoes. They also possess a private pot of gold. If caught though, Ireland’s version of the Munchkins can be forced to surrender his treasure as long as the captor does not take his eyes off the prize.  But Leprechauns are tricky little creatures who can usually find a way to distract their kidnapper, and disappear into thin air.

Other customs include: classic IRISH SONGS like “Danny Boy”, “My Wild Irish Rose”, and that favourite of one particular Canadian Prime Minister and a visiting American President - “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”; an often volatile blend of Irish Whiskey, coffee, sugar and whipped cream called IRISH COFFEE; a feat worthy of the most gifted contortionists known as the kissing of THE BLARNEY STONE; and the LIMERICK, those infectious short five-line Irish poems which always seem to have a humorous pinch line type ending.

Now there’s even a new St. Patrick’s tradition, which has been growing in popularity over the past several years. School children have started doing the ST. PATRICK’S DAY PINCH. Classmates who don’t wear something green to school on this holiday are punished with a pinch by the Irish fashion police.

So whether you’re Irish for just that one day in the middle of March, or can’t help but feel a deep connection to the Emerald Isle all year long, we salute you with this St. Patty’s Day toast.

“Thirst is a shameless disease so here’s to a shameful cure. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”

Submitted by: John “shameless” Hanlon


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