As an Irish-American from a family that still has 28 members in my hometown, a clan of Micks in San Luis Obispo, and a not-so-distant clan of Farrell’s and Maddocks’ in the Milwaukee area with whom we reunited two summers ago to play traditional Irish music, I am a proud Irishmen. Each year on this day my family gets together to celebrate our family heritage over multiple crock-pots of corned beef and cabbage. For the McKeagues (my clan), St. Patty’s Day is no joke of a holiday. We gather not simply to indulge in our vices and wear green, but it is a day we gather to celebrate being McKeague, sons and daughters of Eire!
This past week I have been approached and overheard conversations apropos of what Irish whisky we should imbibe, which bar will have the best deals, where there will be an Irish band, and at what time we should inaugurate the festivities. As a McKeague in California, away from my familial festivities, I must muse on the day and what it means. A clear juxtaposition between my Minnesotan St. Patty’s celebration and my Angeleno celebration is apparent. From where does St. Patty’s day emerge and who is this figure Patrick?
Patrick: The Slave and Evangelist
Patrick was born in Wales to a line of clergyman in the fourth century (Note that Patrick was not Irish himself). As a teenager, young Patrick was taken into slavery for six years (approximately) where he worked as a herdsman in the fields of Eire. As a Roman Catholic, it was here that Patrick’s Christianity grew and he envisioned his evangelistic future according to his Confessions. In his Confessions, Patrick wrote that in his sixth year of enslavement he received a vision of his escape. Subsequently, Patrick traveled two hundred miles on foot to the nearest port and returned to his home country.
In the following years back in Wales, Patrick learned more of his faith within the setting of the Roman church. A second vision struck Patrick in this time concerning the Irish people. Some background: At this particular point in history, mainland Europe was vastly engulfed in Roman Catholicism, but Ireland was still practicing its folk pagan religion, Druidism. Patrick’s latest vision illumined his evangelistic ministry to baptize the Irish Druids and it was after said vision that Patrick returned to the land where he was held captive with a divine commission. In Patrick’s Confession, he spoke of baptizing thousands and being the essential reason for Ireland’s conversion to Catholicism. Patrick’s legacy has lived on posthumously as he is currently the patron saint of the Irish people and St. Patrick’s Day is both a Roman Catholic and national holiday in some countries.
As I sit and muse on the disconnect between the story behind our holiday and the figure of St. Patrick, I can’t help but think he’d be utterly pissed at what we’ve made of it! In all actuality, if we wanted to celebrate Patrick’s legacy and do what he would have wanted, we would probably first be Roman Catholics, and secondly, we would try to convert as many pagans as possible. Tis’ a strange and absurd contradiction I see when loads of pagans celebrate Patrick and do it by indulging in drunkenness.
So where do we go from here? The truth is, I am not a Roman Catholic whatsoever; I believe that God is much more powerful than our feeble and existentialist attempts at evangelism; and I probably will have a swill of Jameson and a pint of Guinness today. So how do we justify all of this? First, I believe that many of our rituals and holidays are contrived from narratives that could or could not be fully true. Yet we celebrate them regardless. We must ask ourselves if our holidays and rituals must fully be grounded in objective historical truth, and if we can ever truly say that this is a possibly justifiable feat. I would argue not. But is it enough to celebrate simply for the sake of celebrating? Perhaps a holiday that we simply turn into green-garbed debauchees is a bit silly.
Two Reasons to Celebrate
Personally, I celebrate two things. As said above, I celebrate my familial solidarity. My family is a differentiable Irish clan in the 21st century American milieu where family is rarely given priority over progress and career. I celebrate my “McKeagueness”.
Second, I celebrate the plight of the historically downtrodden Irish. As an ethnicity categorized as tough-guy boozers who can’t seem to get the English off their backs and naturally see the depressing reality of life, I resonate with my heritage. I don’t exactly fit into all the Irish stereotypes, but the struggle and tribulation of the Irish is something to be remembered nevertheless. (Here’s a good example) And if you’ve ever been in a melancholic place psychologically, where the dark seems to outweigh the light, the Irish know your burden. From their home in Eire to the early racism in America, the Irish have been an oppressed people and stand for rising above in the midst of tribulation. This, I celebrate as an Irishmen. As a person who has always felt an affinity for the geek, the weak, the oppressed, the heavy-hearted, and is naturally pissed at the injustice of the big shot, the well to do, the CEO, and the oppressor, I celebrate the Irish as a people who overcome tribulation and reject the oppressor. This is my reason to celebrate. Erin Go Bragh! Oh and sorry for making such bullocks of your day Patrick. RIP
How are you celebrating today?
Submitted by: Ckcasselman (McKeague)