Ireland’s population has not yet rebounded from losses during the Great Potato Famine. The famine was responsible for much of Ireland’s emigration. While the population of Ireland was roughly 6.8 million in 2012, there are nearly 35 million U.S. citizens of Irish descent. This may explain the Americanization of St. Patrick’s Day. Much like St Nicholas and Christmas, we have gradually separated the reason from the season. Let’s look at some facts that may not fit with your understanding of Irish lore.
St. Patrick was NOT a leprechaun, nor is St. Patrick a myth. Saints are real people. Whether or not you choose to believe they performed miracles is up to you, but the person is real. Did St Patrick drive the serpents from Ireland and into the sea? According to scientists, there is no evidence of any serpents in post-glacier Ireland. So, if you are a realist, the answer is no. If you believe scientists are a bunch of know-it-alls trying to ruin a good story, then yes… yes he did.
The leprechaun has become a symbol for St. Patrick’s Day, but we have even warped the perception of these little troublemakers. In Irish folklore, Leprechauns wear red. What? You read that right. Our stories often involve the granting of wishes and pots of gold. This may glamorize the little buggers as friendly and mischievous. The first fables of leprechauns involved the kidnapping and ransoming of a king by dragging his royal highness into the ocean. That’s not very friendly!
If you happen upon a leprechaun, you may notice he has a short cane. Stay back! This is actually a Gaelic weapon known as a shelale. Depictions often make the stick look like a cane, but it has a heavy, bulbous end used to whoop knots on your head. Keep that in mind if you try to capture a leprechaun. Why would you attempt capture? When captured, a leprechaun will offer his treasure in trade for his freedom. Beware the single gold coin he carries. It will disappear as soon as he does. Hold out for the good stuff. I am not a leprechaun hunter, but if you would like to try, I offer this advice… The only leprechauns I have ever chanced to witness myself were behind pubs and bars in mid-spring, at around 2 A.M.
If you are leaving a bar at 2 A.M., I would advise kissing the blarney stone before driving. Kissing the Blarney stone is said to give one the gift of eloquent speech. Don’t fall victim to someone wearing a “Kiss My Blarney Stone” tee shirt. The actual stone is mounted permanently in Blarney Castle 5 miles from Cork, Ireland. Over 300,000 people a year make the trek to kiss this stone. Just remember, you are not just kissing the Blarney stone, but everyone else who has kissed it as well.
Let’s see… What have I forgotten? Shamrocks have 3 leaves. Corned beef is actually salt cured beef. Before an individual piece of salt was called a grain it was a kernel, before that a corn. Lucky Charms were created in 1963 as a way to sell more Cheerio ingredients. Originally, the cereal had 3 marshmallow shapes, but now has 8. Guinness is brewed in several countries, including Nigeria, Canada, The Bahamas, and Indonesia.
That should about cover it for this year. By no means all of the information about St. Patrick’s Day, but enough to keep you ahead in a water cooler conversation. Remember not to pinch anyone larger than yourself. I leave you with an old Irish saying. “Drink is the curse of the land. It makes you fight with your neighbor. It makes you shoot at your landlord, and it makes you miss him.”
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