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Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

March 17, 2016

If I were a better writer, I'd track down what iteration of the Saint Patrick's Day post this is.  I am not that person, however, so I'll just roll with it.  Pretend the Germans just bombed Pearl Harbor.

I've discussed in the past how Patricius (the man who would become Patrick) was a Roman citizen of Brittania who was probably a member of some minor noble family.  He was already a Christian when he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland, where he served as a slave for several years before escaping and making his way to mainland Europe.  After a trip to Rome, he returned to Ireland and drove out the snakes (symbolism for the pagans) and converted the Irish to Catholicism.  He then went on a spree of church building through the British Isles and ended up in Northern Indiana where he founded the greatest Catholic University on the Face of the Planet and Possibly the Universe.  That last part might be apocryphal.

Or he might have been a composite mixture of another Irish saint, Palladius, who also made a lot of churches but isn't nearly as tied in with the weak excuse to drink Guinness and behave like an asshole on the 17th of March.

As far as stouts go, Guinness is a pretty weak one.  Thanks to the craft beer revolution here in America, I can think of at least ten stouts that are far better than Guinness.  Stouts are actually a subset of porters, which are dark brown ales that are made with roasted malts, giving them the darker color.  They're typically stronger than their lighter-toned cousins, and the strongest of porters came to be known as "stout porters" and eventually just "stouts."  Nowadays, stouts are typically just the darkest of beers and the word "stout" has little to do with the actual alcohol content (for instance, Guinness, the "best" stout, weighs in at a paltry 4.3% abv, per the wiki entry).  And here's the real kick in the teeth for those who want to link Guinness (certainly a true Irish brewer) and stouts with Ireland:  Porters were first developed and named in London, England.  The dark color, thicker consistency, and affordability of porters made them popular with--sit down for this--porters (men who carried things).  Since the beer was cheap to make and was somewhat undesirable (philistines), it was shipped to Ireland where it quickly grew in popularity.  To lower costs even more (hooray, free market capitalism!), Guinness began brewing porters in the late 1700's and by 1780 was one of the top producers of this kind of beer.

So, not only is Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland from the British mainland, so too is the national beer of Ireland an English import.

Best damned leprechaun ever!
Well, the leprechaun has to be a true Irish symbol, right?  Well, yes and no.  The leprechaun, for all its connotations with being Irish, rarely appears in Irish mythology.  When the leprechaun does pop up, it is typically a mischief-maker, but more commonly is associated with being a loner who moves about the countryside repairing shoes.  A leprechaun is more similar to German sprites and gnomes than it is with any of the pantheon of Irish mythology.  In fact, the leprechaun appears so rarely in Irish stories that it's assumed to be a later addition to Irish lore than more traditional Irish spirits, such as the Banshee or the Tuatha de Danaan (which is a whole wide range of Irish spirits).  There is even confusion with what to do with a leprechaun, should you manage to catch one.  He (they are almost invariably male) will either give you his pot of gold (another property of the leprechaun that seems to be a late addition to the story) or he will grant you three wishes.  Most depictions of leprechauns center around the stereotypes of the Irish, especially in America, and many traditional Irish people look at leprechauns as just a prop for tourism.

Well...if Patrick isn't all that Irish and Guinness is a British import and a leprechaun is just a symbol for anti-Irish propaganda, what about the color green?

Green, White and Orange
has never been sexier!
Finally, we've found something that does seem to be a true symbol of Ireland...ish.  Ireland, of course, is known as the "Emerald Isle" because of the lush, verdant fields and the magnificent greenery that can be viewed in the countryside.  It makes sense, then, that the Irish national color would be green and that they would march into battle or rally behind a green banner, right?  Sure...except the green flag of Ireland is actually younger than the flag of the United States.  The "traditional" Irish flag featured a lot more blue than any other color for most of its history (Ireland, of course, being a loose conglomeration of kingdoms until the British conquests).

It wasn't until the late 1700's (Guinness is actually older than the green flag) that green began to be used as a symbol of Ireland.  Inspired by the French Revolution (and probably a little by the American Revolution), the United Irishmen raised a banner of green with a harp emblazoned on the field (the harp actually is a traditional Irish symbol) sometime around 1790.  Part of the choice of the color green was to stand in opposition to the orange color associated with the Orange Order, which was a symbol of King William of Orange and the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  William of Orange, of course, was an "English" king and was thus a symbol of British rule over the Irish.  After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the modern Irish flag with the green, white and orange was introduced as a hopeful means of bringing a peaceful end to hostilities between the Catholic majority (the green) and the Protestant minority (the orange) of Ireland, with white being the symbol of peace in between the two groups.

Well, fuck.  It seems as though all the things we naturally associate with the Irish and Saint Patrick's day aren't all that Irish.  Unfortunately, leprechauns, the Irish spirits that most Irish want to disassociate with their Irish heritage, are the most Irish of all these symbols.

Next, you're going to tell me that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a school in Northern Indiana with a French name by a priest of Romanian heritage isn't all that Irish either!  The nerve!!!


However you decide to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day, just remember to lay off the brogues and drink responsibly.  Maybe enjoy some basketball and don't make an ass of yourself.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

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