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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

SHAMROCKS, SNAKES AND BLARNEY!

     Nineteen months ago I kissed the Blarney Stone, lunched on Irish Stew under a thatched-roof pub near a 19th century Famine Cemetery, and learned the truth about shamrocks. The wee part of me that’s Irish felt a tug of allegiance to the Emerald Isle during our tour. As I do on most St. Patrick Days in the U.S., I wear green, sometimes even a button that says “Kiss me, I’m Irish.”
     My early memories of St. Patrick’s Day include me singing “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral” with friends on a school playground while we formed a line attempting to dance an Irish jig. Much later, in high school, I briefly dated an amorous Irish boy named Dittle—who grew a beard and dyed it green on St. Pat’s Day. I missed my curfew that night and my mother was waiting at the door when I got home. She stared at me, speechless of any reprimand. When I saw the green on my pillow the next morning, and looked in the mirror, I too, was speechless...and busted!  My mouth and chin were green.

      Who doesn’t love a parade—a holiday festival—on March 17, celebrated in more countries than any other National festival, thanks to Maewyn Succat. So who is Maewyn Succat?? When Britain was part of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, Maewyn was a Christian-Romano British aristocrat, just sixteen years old when he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and enslaved in Ireland—as a shepherd. Six years later he escaped, walking 200 miles to the Irish coast to find a ship that took him back to England. He entered a monastery to become a priest, taking the name Patricius—aka Patrick. In a dream, he was directed by an angel to return to Ireland to Christianize the Celtic Pagans. St. Patrick made good on his intent, with at least 300 churches and 100,000 converts to his credit over 40 years in his verdant mission field. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461.
     The legend goes that St. Patrick used the native shamrock to explain the trinity. Actually, there are no organic shamrocks in Ireland, only wood sorrel or clover leaves disguised as shamrocks. A young three-leafed clover was known as seamair. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the three-leafed “shamrock” became a National symbol, like the English rose and the Scottish thistle. Great branding, though!
     Was it also blarney or did Patrick truly rid Ireland of snakes? Snakes may have been a euphemism for Pagans, since there probably never were snakes in an island surrounded by water too cold for snakes even to migrate there. Greenland, Iceland, and New Zealand are also blessed with with no snakes.
     Did wearing green originate with St. Patrick? Actually, Patrick was identified with blue. Wearing green probably came about because the emerald isle is literally green. No big surprise since it rains there 225 days a year--producing lots of green clover/shamrocks. In the rebellion of 1798, green was also symbolic of southern Nationalism, while loyalist foes in Northern Ireland wore British red. Popular song lyrics of the era described men hung for “Wearin’ of the Green.”

         Part of my sequel to “The Accidental Wife” takes place in Ireland. Life has impeded sequel progress with numerous distractions and the interim romantic comedy published last month. ("Hot Stuff”—is getting "hot" reviews on Amazon.) I am at a halfway point in the sequel, however, and to honor the first anniversary of The Accidental Wife this month—as well as the March holiday that invokes the largest parade in the world--(NYC)-- here is an Irish excerpt from the sequel:

     He was nodding off when he sensed a brush of movement in the room, and opening one eye, focused sleepily on a halo of light at the foot of the bier. The candle at the head of the coffin was drifting toward the window. He rubbed his eyes and blinked. Heard the latch break…felt a wisp of fresh air smudge his face.
       Was it the soul of the mistress, leaving her body?
       The light grew larger, multiplying, reflecting copper flames in the mullioned glass. He blinked again, focusing on a shimmery slip of white swaying in a new flood of air as the window creaked open.
      “Saoirse,” she whispered, leaning over the sill into the ocean breeze. The candle flame broke into tiny stars that caught in her hair. Recognizing the voice, he leaped to her side, crushing the sparks with his gloved hands. Her muffled scream startled them both, and she fell backward into his arms, dragging them both to the floor. The snuffed candle rolled out of her hand, splattering hot wax on the parlor rug.                  
      “Livy, A Dhia, what have you done?” he cried over the limp body, frantically batting at her singed hair and tiny sparks that blinked like fireflies across the shoulders of her nightgown.                                     

As every thirsty Irishman says on St. Patrick's Day and beyond... Sláinte!    Cj  

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CJ