St. Patrick’s Day was always celebrated in every village, town and city in Ireland. Nowadays it is a flamboyant worldwide event.
Only people of a certain age in Ireland and our diaspora will recall the romance, symbolism and profound impact of the story of St. Patrick.
As small children at school, we listened, absorbed, to the story of St. Patrick.
What child could resist the fascinating depiction of a man in green, with a tall mitre and brandishing a threatening crosier, sternly banishing snakes into the sea?
Or the vision of this man, shamrock aloft, offering a highly believable explanation for the Three Persons in the One God? Not to speak of the vivid imagery and mystery of an unquenchable fire burning brightly on the Hill of Slane?
Lesson over, we sang the following hymn with proud fervour:
“Hail glorious St. Patrick, dear saint of our isle,
On us thy poor children, bestow a sweet smile…”
What really matters about St. Patrick’s Day is the Tradition. “Tradition!” The rousing overture to Fiddler on the Roof resonates long after the curtain descends.
Parents aim to provide the best lifestyle for their children. Together with material comforts, it is vital that we imbue them with the highest standards of manners, morality, values, belief systems, and our traditions. Endowed with these strengths, they will be fully equipped for life.
Appreciating our past, so richly steeped in Tradition, will enhance our children’s future. Each generation professes despair for “the youth of today” but, thankfully, many in each generation prove proud standard-bearers for the future because Tradition is ingrained in our psyche/DNA.
As children, when the longed-for St. Patrick’s Day arrived, we attended Mass.
The church was a sea of little girls with huge green bows adorning their hair and both boys and girls sported green badges or rosettes, decorated with the harp.
And then there was the parade. Spectacular stunts, clowns on stilts, bicycles made for two, and colourful, amusing floats of local businesses or of community interest.
And the marching bands were one of the highlights. It seemed to be always freezing at the parade, but we shivered even more, in empathy, at the beautiful, tanned American girls in tiny, pleated green skirts and skimpy tops, twirling their batons and pom-poms, snow-white teeth gleaming.
Not once did they indicate that they were absolutely freezing, but we saw their goose-bumps and admired their perpetual smiles.
Dignitaries, of course, were spared the indignity of goose-bumps. They were snug and safely ensconced under cover, viewing all they surveyed from their cosy vantage point, whilst we ordinary mortals shivered and snuffled.
Tradition was next to Godliness to my mother, so she made a particularly special celebration of the occasion.
Home from the Parade, we tucked into the traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage. Our dessert was tri-coloured – green jelly, custard and cream!
Just as important, was the fact that Lent was suspended for St. Patrick’s Day. Out came the stored sweets and chocolate being saved for Easter Sunday.
Weeks beforehand, my maternal grandfather posted our badges to us. And, naturally, my mother carried on the tradition of annually supplying the badges for my children when the time came.
Of course, I followed her example. The Dublin Parade was mandatory when our little guys were small. By then, the Parade was much more elaborate and sophisticated, although the essential elements remained sacrosanct.
The older ones were allowed in to the barrier and the youngest child viewed the colourful display from the vantage point of Dad’s shoulders. The Traditional Dinner followed.
One year, we stupidly positioned ourselves at a T-junction and the icy March wind blew full force into my neck. As June Carter chirped in the biopic of herself and Johnny Cash, “I got the Laryngitis.”
That put an end, for quite a while, to my illustrious career as a soprano in the local musical society. Happily, I shattered crystal chandeliers again, eventually!
Our little daughter was born on 1st. December and died on 31st. December.
Prior to the subsequent St. Patrick’s Day, the badges with harps arrived as usual from my mother – four badges; my precious, dead Áine was included. Grief/Joy – opposite sides of the same coin – overwhelmed me. So, we placed Áine’s badge with the harp under safe cover on her grave. Yearly, we added another one, until an over-zealous relative, unaware, cast them on the cemetery tip.
Nowadays, I experience the pleasure of continuing Tradition when I provide badges with harps for the small grandchildren with whom I have been blessed.
The Echoes that Remain
“There are memories of the past,
Links of a Golden Chain,
Thoughts that can bear me back to times
That will never come again.
May God forbid that I should lose
The Echoes that remain.”
From the St. Patrick’s Day Ireland’s Own Annual
Subscribe to Ireland’s Own and read about the best of being Irish