Wednesday, March 17, 2004

My Celtic Moment

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick (387-493), patron of Ireland. It is on the Emerald Isle that the day is traditionally a religious holiday -- the bars would close and the churches would be full out of obligation -- with the more rebellious spirit of recent years, complete with parades and green beer, being an American import. Who knew?

Growing up in a postwar Catholic environment, we were told that there were two kinds of people; those who were Irish, and those who wish they were. There were even Irish nuns who favored the Irish kids, and weren't above calling some miscreant a "jackass." Of course, my family fell into neither category, and I came to dismiss the whole notion of St Paddy's Day -- indeed, the whole notion of being Irish -- as an excuse for obnoxious pretense.

Then I went to college, where I discovered Irish music. I mean the real thing, not the over-romantic "Christmas-in-Killarney-on-St-Patrick's-in-June" that passed itself off as genuine the whole time. I really loved the stuff. I helped out at a coffeehouse, where we even brought Clannad to town on their first American tour. I even gave Maire Brennan (pronounced MOY-uh) a ride back to where she was staying. Otherwise shy and aloof, she even laughed at my jokes. Go figure.

By then, the feast became an annual ritual, of spending most of the preceding weekend hanging out at Hap's Irish Pub in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, or Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown. Over the years, I learned Irish dancing, Irish folk tales, and the like. But I was under no illusions that this heritage was one that I could claim for my own.

Then a few years ago, I was interviewed for a writing job by a priest who edited a major Catholic periodical. A native of Dublin, he reminded me of what really mattered:

"Patrick was not Irish, and on his Feast Day, we do not celebrate being Irish; we celebrate being Catholic."

I always knew that my father's side came from a small town near Verdun, in the Lorraine province of France. But about that time, we learned that before the 18th century, his family was expatriated from Scotland, a result of the Rebellion when England took over Scotland. More recently, I was to learn that Maganus Sucatus was of a Roman family, born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in that part of Britain that is now Scotland.

Sooooo... if not being Irish were not enough, Patrick (as he was known in later years, being of the Roman "patrician" class, and a "patriarch" to his spiritual charges) was, well, (dammit!) Scottish!!!

So the tale has come full circle. Tonight we'll have a dinner, just family and friends, and we'll save a toast for the Lion of Ireland. Meanwhile, Maire will be the featured artist at the annual Speaker of the House Saint Patrick's Day Lunch.

Haven't spoken to her for about 25 years now, but I trust she's doing well.

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