Things to know about being “Irish” for Saint Patrick’s day.
In the deepest darkest time of night when Hobgoblins dance about on Branch Street in Arroyo Grande, beware. The wee people are out and about every March 16th. They cast a magic spell and lo and behold a brilliant shamrock green stripe appears. From Ralph and Duanes bar out and up the street, making a slightly tipsy band of brilliance until it arrives at the batwing doors of Old Bill Hendrix’s saloon. The wee man say’s, “Micheal ,ye Feckin’ Eejit it’s O’Conners now and fer taday, it’s a pub.”
My earliest American ancestor arrived in the Virginia colony in 1682 to serve a seven year indentured servitude. A form of debt bondage, meaning it was an agreed upon term of unpaid labor that usually paid off the costs of the servant’s immigration to America. He arrived on the shores of Colonial America and was auctioned to the man who then paid his passage to the shipmaster who brought him. Indentured servants were not paid wages but they were generally housed, clothed, and fed. Daniel Shannon worked off his debt and married Abigail Vaughan at Portsmouth, Virginia in 1689. The rest, as they say is history. Fast forward a few generations and we find the family in western Pennsylvania and owners of a tavern in Bethel township. The family bought it from the heirs of a man named Reynolds who was hanged by the British for the crime of counterfeiting. How Irish is owning a tavern.
Jump another hundred years or so and having somehow survived the Revolution, The Blackhawk war, The war of the Southern Rebellion and various other disagreements including my great-grandfather’s two years in Sing Sing, we arrived in Arroyo Grande in 1888. John Edward Shannon, he of Sing Sing fame and his wife Catherine Shannon, nee Brennan bought a house and small ranch just off Corbit Canyon near the old stage road and settled in. We’re still here 134 years later. Being near the sea, it’s as far as they could go.
If you are not a Gaelic speaker, which few are, the title of this story is the proper name of the Saint, so called, that the particular day of celebration is named for, Saint Patricks Day. According to the autobiographical Confessio of Patrick, when he was sixteen, he was captured by Irish pirates and taken from his home in Britain and sold as a slave in Ireland. He spent his days a a herder near Slemish Hill, historically Slieve Mish in County Antrim where my grandmothers family is from. My great-grandparents would have seen it from their homes. He was a Shepard, looking after the woolies.
He lived in the north and west of medieval Ireland. He was captive there for six years before escaping and returning across the Irish sea to his family in Wales. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland where he went about saving souls and dealing with snakes, or so it goes.. In later life, he served as a bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on 17 March, the supposed date of his death. It is celebrated inside and outside Ireland as a religious and cultural holiday. In the dioceses of Ireland, it is both a solemn and holy day of obligation; it is also a celebration of Ireland itself.
He is not actually a canonized Saint as there was no process for making him a Saint during and after his life. He is listed on the calendar of saints but has never been officially recognized by the Pontiff. He is recognized as so by the Irish Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox churches though. It really doesn’t matter as nearly the entire world does so on a least one day of the year.
About the snakes. There were never any snakes in Ireland; never, ever. The snake story is a metaphor for the banishment of the so-called Pagan religions in Ireland during his lifetime. The Irish tribes of the time likely wouldn’t have known what a snake was if you threw it at them. Snakes and St Patrick first became entwined in the 17th century but it’s hard to kill a good story and if any snakes know different they don’t give a hiss.
The angry old man in the tablet above, wearing his bathrobe is Saint Patrick. A garment never worn in Ireland. The snakes are making their escape, the busty maiden with her hands up in surrender represents the Druids. You can see she is holding a sprig of Oak leaf which are purported to be the symbol of that religion which worshipped trees. The studly guy with the torch is, of course a pagan who Paddy said were fire worshippers. He wanted them all out of Ireland. You can take it or leave it, it’s all likely Blarney anyhow.
The Shamrock was first connected with Patrick centuries after his death. He supposedly used its three petals to illustrate the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The symbolism of three has been used in religion since before time and Patrick would have found it was an easy get. In art, architecture and design the trefoil predates writing.
Now you know a little, and I mean very little about the old guy. There is a field of research that believes he never existed but as we always do in journalism the legend is much more interesting so thats what we print.
The British Parliament passed laws against dissenters and Irish Catholics in 1695. They were forbidden to own land, to school their children, vote, own a horse worth more than £2.50. They could not be a public official, be a lawyer or soldier, or serve on a jury. It was a hanging offense to speak Gaelic. Teachers, called Hedge Masters roamed Ireland teaching, literally in the bushes, another hanging offense if caught. This is the period that saw the end of many Irish traditions, including the wearing of the Irish kilt. It seems unbelievable today that this could have been so, but men, women and children were hanged for wearing a sprig of the Shamrock. These laws were designed to completely stamp out Irish culture. Instead, the Irish sailed away to America. You see, they could own land here, and school their children
And that they did. In the 1880’s our little valley was populated by many, many Irish families. There were Moores, MacGuires, Shannons, Olohans, Rices, Phelans, Donovans, Greys, Corbits, O’conners, McBanes and McKeens, many of them my relatives. My sister in law is a MacConaghy, a strawberry blonde no less.
As to the drink itself. Ireland today doesn’t even make the top ten worldwide. Sort of ruins the image of the two-fisted drinking Irish male doesn’t it. As with the many traits and characteristics of ethnicities the idea that the Irish are drunkards has more to do with politics than fact.
A letter written by then Catholic Cardinal Paul Cullen in March 1870 illustrates the attitude of those who backed the Sunday closing bill of 1905.
“Almost all the crime we have to deplore in Ireland may be traced to drunkenness; and as long as the doors of the public-house stand open during the leisure of the Sunday, it will be very difficult indeed to root out from among our people that degrading vice.” Cullen called for legislation to impose the Sunday ban, for the “spiritual and temporal welfare of our excellent people”.
Mind you though, the bill passed in the British Parliament only targeted the Irish. The Scots, Welsh and British were still allowed to partake of a Sunday. Of course they had slightly better relations with the British government even though they drank just as much. It seems the Brits have had it in for the Irish from, lets see, roughly the year 1169. More on that later.
When the barman asks you what will you have there are some things to know. If you ask for a pint, it’ll be Guiness served at room temperature. Room temperature, not warm, not chilled. Don’t forget, Ireland is not a warm country and room temperature is, well cold. If you think you’re cool and want to be like the locals and ask for a Black and Tan do it in San Francisco not Dublin. The name “Black and Tan” is not used in Ireland as a term for a mixture of two beers. The drink is instead referred to as a half and half. In Ireland, the term “black and tan” is associated with the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force, nicknamed the “Black and Tans”, which was sent into Ireland in the early 1920s during the Irish War of Independence and resulted in violent outbreaks between the Constabulary forces and the Irish people. The Black and Tans are thoroughly hated. So half and half it is, half Harp and Half Guiness stout.
One other thing. Guiness is not the only beer in Ireland and in fact the British and, surprisingly, the Nigerians drink more per capita than the Irish. Guiness breweries are now owned by a British conglomerate called Diageo, which until recently was the worlds largest brewer. There is a sneaking suspicion that the recipe for Guiness has been tampered with. Irish have every reason to be suspicious of the British.
The Diaspora refers to the dispersion of any people from their original homeland. There are far more people of Irish descent living outside Ireland than there are in the home country itself. For fourteen centuries the Irish have been starved out, shipped out as criminals, sold into servitude and simply left as my ancestors did. The Shannons arrived in America not long after Oliver Cromwell finally savagely crushed the Irish at Drogheda in 1649, killing upwards of 20,000, murdering the captured on the spot, burning the city and deporting 50,000 Irish to the New World as indentured servants which you may know is a type of slavery. Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were also often destinations for Irish fleeing starvation and oppression.
“Oh, Paddy dear and did you hear the news that’s goin’ round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground
Saint Patrick’s Day no more we’ll keep his colours can’t be seen
For they’re hangin’ men and women for the wearin’ of the green.”
In America, before it became the United States there was opportunity unlimited and a people raised under oppressive law took full advantage of it. Big George Washington wasn’t Irish but he would not have survived the revolution with out his master spy Hercules Mulligan who was born in Coleraine, County Londonderry. He was denounced as a spy to the British by that dastardly traitor Benedict Arnold. Hercules used his Irish Blarney to talk his way out of hanging. Obviously the “Gift of Gab.”
James Hoban, the architect who designed the White House was from Callan, County Killkenny. He supervised the actual building of the structure with the blessing of President Washington himself.
We take the phrase “Third Times the Charm” from the marksmanship of Timothy Murphy who on his third try drilled the Scot General Simon Fraser at the battle of Saratoga in 1777. Murphy, from Pennsylvania was a master with the Kentucky Rifle. Serving with Daniel Morgan’s hand picked rifleman, Murphy scaled a tree, took careful aim at the extreme distance of 300 yards, and fired three times. The first shot was a close miss, the second grazed the General’s horse, and with the third, Fraser tumbled from his horse, dead. The deed is credited with breaking the British and ending the battle. “The third Time’s the Charm.”
James Marshall, not Irish, discovered gold at Colma in California in 1848. The “Luck of the Irish” phrase has long been associated with this discovery. Down in San Francisco, Samuel “Sam” Brannon, son of James who emigrated from County Waterford, yes, the crystal comes from there, was the first to hear of the gold strike and spent a few days buying up every thing a miner might need for his store and then walking down Marker street shouting, “Gold, gold found on the American River. It made his fortune and he became, shortly, California first millionaire in the day when a million meant something. The majority of the first miners were of Irish descent and the phrase is said to have originated with the. James Marshall an Englishman had no luck, he died penniless near Kelsey California in 1885. No luck for James.
It doesn’t matter which political party you belong to, there are politicians and presidents of Irish descent in all of them. Eleven Irishmen signed the declaration of Independence, most born in Ireland. John Dunlap who printed the document was born in Strabane, County Tyrone.
There were four Irish born signers of the U S Constitution, two from County Antrim, one from County Carlow and one from Sligo.
Twenty-tthree of our 46 presidents have claimed Irish ancestors including ten of the last twelve. Some who pushed a little such as Nixon who was descended from Irish on both his father and mothers side but did not want the voters to think he was embracing Democrat JFK’s Irish Catholocism. Pat Nixon’s father, Patrick Ryan was from Ballinrobe, County Mayo, so he figured why not use that instead. Very Nixonest. Barack O’Bama is Irish through his fathers family the Kearney’s who hailed from Moneygall, Tipperary. His great-grandfather Fulmore was a wealthy farmer and an Uncle, John Kearney who became the Bishop of Ossory and a Provost of Trinity College in Dublin, Irelands most prestigious university. Joe Bidens mother was a Finnegans of County Mayo. Bill Clinton claimed to be Irish on his mothers side but there is no evidence of that. Sounds like him. I will say that he has the “Gift of Gab,” so there is that.
Al Smith mayor of New York and Governor of the state lost to Herbert Hoover in the presidential election of 1928. As a son of Ireland he ran as a “Wet” meaning he was against prohibition, naturally. He was also the first Catholic to run for the highest office in the land the opposition made the claim that if elected he would let the Pope run America. Interestingly, the same claim was made in 1960 about JFK. Didn’t work the second time. Al Smith got a better job though. He ran the Empire State buildings construction. Built in just 13 months he ordered construction to begin on March 17th, 1932. By the by, the Empire State is bathed in Green every Saint Pat’s day. Thanks Al.
That brings us to the Blarney Stone. For over 200 years, world statesmen, literary giants, and legends of the silver screen have joined the millions of pilgrims climbing the steps to kiss the Blarney Stone and gain the gift of eloquence. Its powers are unquestioned but its story still creates debate. My Grandmother Hall gave it a smack herself. She did it for fun ’cause she really didn’t need more eloquence than she already had.
The stone is set into the wall of Blarney castle which was built by Dermot MacCarthy in 1446. It is inside a stone shaft affixed to the outer wall of the castle keep. The original use of the shaft was the castelleyne’s private garderobe. The Irish know what it’s original use was an don’t typically kiss the stone, being naturally gifted with eloquence by birth.
Some say the stone was Jacob’s Pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. Here it became the Lia Fail or ‘Fatal Stone’, used as an oracular throne of Irish kings – a kind of Harry Potter-like ‘sorting hat’ for kings. It was also said to be the deathbed pillow of St Columba on the island of Iona. Legend says it was then removed to mainland Scotland, where it served as the prophetic power of royal succession, the Stone of Destiny.
The Stone of Destiny is also known as the Stone of Scone and resided under the throne of Scotland before being taken by the British crown as spoils of war in 1296. There is a delightful little film titled “The Stone of Destiny” about four college kids who steal it and return it to Scotland in 2008. One of the leads is actress Kate Mara of the Rooney/Mara family an Irish girl. For the sports fan, her great-grandfathers founded the Pittsburg Steelers and the New York Giants football teams.
When Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, sent five thousand men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English at Bannockburn in 1314, a portion of the historic Stone of Destiny was given by the Scots in gratitude – and returned to Ireland.
Others say it may be a stone brought back to Ireland from the Crusades – the ‘Stone of Ezel’ behind which David hid on Jonathan’s advice when he fled from his enemy, Saul. A few claim it was the stone that gushed water when struck by Moses.Whatever the truth of its origin, we believe a witch saved from drowning revealed its power to the MacCarthys who placed in the wall.
The rise of Saint Patricks day has taken fourteen centuries. This greening of the world began with the first recorded mention of a Saint Patricks Day parade outside of Ireland took place in the then colony of Spanish Florida in 1601. It was organized by Richard Artur the Irish born Vicar of Saint Augustine.
About 1 percent of the worlds population claim to be a little bit Irish. That percentage rises to as much as forty percent in Australia, twenty percent in New Zealand, fifteen in Canada, ten in the UK and about twelve in the United States. Ancestory.com revealed that of the fifteen milion people who have taken a DNA test were at least 5 percent Irish. 170,000 Irish born citizens live in the United States and another 50,000 are here illegally. Oh, oh. There are an estimated 80 million people of Irish ancestry living around the world including 31.5 million in the United States. California has the largest number and New Hampshire boasts it has 21 percent of its total population of Irish descent. Every one of our 3,006 counties has at least one Irish person in residence.
Two million Irish march down Broadway on Saint Patricks day. A million do the same in Boston. Savannah Georgia sports a half million marchers. The Chicago River turn green and has since 1962.
The Sydney opera house, the great pyramids of Egypt, the Eiffel Tower are all green on Saint Patricks. So is the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, the leaning Tower of Pisa, The Taj Mahal, Nelson Mandela’s statue in Johannesburg, The West Bank Palestinian Museum in Ramallah Palestine and that symbol of green, the Welome to Las Vegas sign in Lost Wages, Nevada.
When I lived in Hawaii I belonged to “The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick,” a fraternal organization primarily organized to throw a ball on the great day. Men wore tuxedo’s and the women ball gowns. A beautiful redheaded Aer Lingus stewardess was flown in each year to be the princess and believe you me, all had a wonderful time. Senator Fong, Senator Inouye, Mayor Fosse and even Hilo Hattie became Irish for the day.
George Custer, he of the glossy blonde ringlets went to his death on the Greasy Grass, galloping down Medicine Tail Coulee to the tune “Garryowen” an old Irish drinking song. Captain Myles Keogh was the only Irish officer to take part in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He was one of 34 Irish born soldiers who died that day.
At least 150,000 Irishmen served in the Union army, most not yet citizens, many just off the boat from Ireland. 20,000 served the south and wore Butternut including all three of my Hooper kin who died at Bull Run and Malvern Hill. There are no figures as to how many Irishmen died in the Civil War, but it is likely that it ran perilously close to 40,000.
Literature and entertainment are rife with the sons and daughters of the “Auld Sod.” On the list: Walter Disney, Kurt Cobain, Pierce Brosnan, Mary Pickford, the first great movie star and the inestimable Bill Murray. The reigning king of macho, Clint Eastwood is on the list along with Alicia Keyes, Mariah Carey and Judy Garland. Eugene O’Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry and J P Donleavy represent some of our Irish American greatest writers.
If you watch British film it’s obvious they have stolen the best Irish talent to stock their films and plays. Saoirse Ronan, Fionnula Flanagan, Stephen Rhea, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Day-Lewis, Peter O’Toole and the brilliant Maureen O’Hara. Yes even that quintessential Englishwomen Judi Dench had an Irish mother, Eleanora from County Dublin.
It is impossible to leave out the great Irish poets, Oscar Wilde, W B Yeats, James Joyce. Olivia Wilde, one of Irelands great poets was the mother of Oscar. Talent ran in the family . Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and Seamus Heaney a poet who wrote with such a sublime beauty that his readings caused people in the audience to weep.
W.B. Yeats “When You are Old”
When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
When you make the walk from Ralph and Duane’s to O’Conner’s on this coming Thursday, remember the stories, legends and Irish folk that have made this holiday what it is. Raise a glass for the Auld Sod and its people wherever they may be. Slainté