January 16, 2021

Almost Like Being There

Editor’s Note: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! For some time now, Martha of Ireland has been contributing outstanding comments to many of our essays. Now we turn the pen (ok, keyboard) over to her for a look at St. Patrick’s Day as it is celebrated in Ireland, and at the real St. Patrick—or as real as we can find him. Let’s give Martha an iMonk welcome as our first European correspondant.

Jeff has very kindly asked me to give a few thoughts on St. Patrick, seeing as how today is the feast of our national saint, and so here goes.

I’ll spare you the rant on fake-Irishness, cod-Celticness, green beer and leprechauns.  Okay, I will rant this much: it’s either St. Patrick’s Day or Paddy’s Day in the vernacular.  It is most emphatically not St. Patty’s Day, and you have my imprimatur to shoot anyone who uses the term.  Well, maybe shooting is a bit much – a blunt instrument smartly applied to the back of the head is probably enough.  Although the festival as celebrated in recent times really owes more to the Americans who made it what it was, rather than the Irish (who basically have treated it as a break from Lenten fasting and, more importantly, an opportunity to get drunk – Drowning the Shamrock – as the licensing laws of yesteryear relaxed their iron vigor on the day, but only since 1960, as prior to that, the pubs had to close on the day), it really has fallen between two stools in recent years.

It used to be the day to go to Mass dressed in green, sporting a large bunch of shamrock on your lapel or the St. Patrick’s Day badges (usually a cardboard gilt harp with ribbons in green, white and orange, the colour of the Tricolour) – an uneasy mix of piety and nationalism.  Afterwards, you would stand on the streets or in the town square watching the parade (generally composed of tractors pulling floats sponsored by and heavily advertising local businesses, creamery lorries, a brass band or pipe band and some hardy souls in fancy dress that wasn’t very fancy) as a freezing wind, often accompanied by sheeting rain, reduced the onlookers to hypothermia – no wonder the pub was a welcome resort to stave off death from cold!

As religious practice has declined in prosperous modern Ireland (she said with heavy sarcasm), moves were afoot to make it a week-long festival – St. Patrick’s Week – but this has really only taken off in Dublin where the usual suspects are all arty and crafty while the rest of the nation may or may not go to Mass, but will generally watch the local parade and yes, go drinking or have a meal out on the day.

I was supposed to be telling you about St. Patrick, yes?  Don’t worry, I’ll get to him in due time.  Remember, reading my digressions with patience and offering it up in a spirit of mortification is chipping away at your time in Purgatory – it’s the equivalent of a partial indulgence!

Okay, so what do I remember about St. Patrick’s Day from my rural small town Irish childhood?  Well, as I said, you went out and dug up a clump of shamrock the day before for wearing at Mass and while watching the parade.  You got dressed up for Mass, and we children did have the shop-bought badges on display.  The Mass generally included at least a few words of the First Official Language (Irish), usually the “Our Father” (the one prayer in Irish everyone knew, thanks to the Irish educational system which meant that the religious orders were the Irish educational system, the Christian Brothers were the educators of the majority of the males in Ireland, and their vigorous, let us call it, approach to “spare the rod and spoil the child” meant that, quite literally, the prayer was beaten into you.  Girls didn’t get the Christian Brothers – we joked that it was the one benefit of being female in Ireland – but we were taught by nuns and we had it dinned into us as well).

And we all sang the following hymn (yes, I told you I’d get around to St. Patrick eventually!)

Dóchas Linn Naomh Pádraig by Tomás Ó Flannghaile (1846–1915).

(Based on a poem by an early 8th century Irish poet)

Dóchas linn Naomh Pádraig

Aspal mór na hÉireann,

Ainm oirearc gléigeal,

solas mór an tsaoil é.

Sé a chloigh na draoithe,

Croíthe dúra gan aon mhaith.

D’ísligh dream an díomais,

Trí neart Dé ár dtréanfhlaith.

(Saint Patrick is our hope

The great apostle of Ireland

A bright and splendid name

The great light of the world

It was he who defeated the druids

Their hard hearts without goodness

He brought down the proud

By the strength of God our powerful Lord.)

Sléibhte, gleannta, máighe,

‘s bailte mór na hÉireann,

Ghlan sé iad go deo dúinn,

míle glóir dár Naomh dhil.

Iarraimíd ort, a Phádraig,

guí orainn, na Gaeile,

Dia linn lá ‘gus oíche

‘s Pádraig Aspal Éireann.

(The hills, glens and plains

And the towns of Ireland

He cleansed them for ever for us

A thousand glories to our beloved saint

We ask you, Patrick,

To pray for us, the Irish

May God be with us day and night

And Patrick, Apostle of Ireland)

So who is or who was St. Patrick, the National Apostle, the Major Patron (along with St. Brigid and St. Columcille) of Ireland?  Everyone knows about the story of driving out the snakes, using the shamrock to teach the doctrine of the Trinity, and so forth, don’t they?

Well, do we?  We’re not even sure how many St. Patricks there were – the opinions swing between “three” and “none”.  We can’t even agree on what plant is meant by “shamrock” – the ones we dug up from the fields and walls in my childhood were a variety of wood sorrel (if the picture on the Wikipedia article is correct), but there are a couple of varieties of clover also mooted.  It depends what was called “shamrock” where you were growing up.  He probably didn’t evangelise the entire island – in my neck of the woods, the diocese of Waterford and Lismore, our patron is St. Declan of Ardmore whom we maintain converted the heathens in this area of Munster without Patrick even setting foot here.

What documentation do we have about Patrick?  Do we know where he came from?  The general idea is that he was a Romano-Britain (perhaps from Wales, or Cumbria, or even Scotland) who was captured on a raiding expedition by Irish raiders (in popular legend led by Niall Naoi-Gaollach or Neil of the Nine Hostages, regarded as an Irish king and founder of the Uí Néíll dynasty which dominated Ireland politically between the 6th – 10th centuries) and sold into slavery where he tended pigs on Mount Slemish in the province of Ulster for six years before escaping home.  He later became a priest and was moved to return to Ireland for his work of conversion by a vision in a dream where, famously, he heard the voice of the Irish calling from the Western Wood beside the sea beseeching him to walk once more among them.

We have a lot of legends.  For a flavor of the hagiographies which were written from the 7th century onwards, here’s a link to a “Life of Patrick” hosted on the invaluable CELT site hosted by University College, Cork.

We have two documents which are more or less regarded as written by Patrick (if there was a Patrick): the Confession and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus.  They are Latin letters, and the Confession tells us as much as is historically probable about Patrick (e.g his father was of Roman or Roman-Gaulish stock and held office in either Gaul or Britain and his mother was a relative of St. Martin of Tours).  The Letter to Coroticus excommunicates Coroticus, a British chieftain, because his men raiding into Ireland took some of Patrick’s Christian converts and sold them into slavery.  Well worth reading, particularly because of one line where Patrick laments over his spiritual children and says that the reason for this suffering is “They find it unacceptable that we are Irish.”  The son of a decurion from the civilised lands has identified himself with the barbarians who took him prisoner.

Everyone also knows the Breastplate of St. Patrick, the Lorica, or ‘Deer’s Cry’ which is an excerpt from a long poem.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through the belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness

Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,

Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,

Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,

Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In prayers of patriarchs,

In predictions of prophets,

In preaching of apostles,

In faith of confessors,

In innocence of holy virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven:

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me:

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save me

From snares of devils,

From temptations of vices,

From everyone who shall wish me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the threeness,

Through confession of the oneness,

Of the Creator of Creation.

It’s called the Deer’s Cry because of another one of the legends around and about Patrick, but I’ve already gone on too long.  I’ll finish up here with the ending from that “Life of Patrick” which I mentioned above:

“Patrick was buried, with honour and veneration, with daily wonders and miracles, in Dunlethglasse.  And though great is his honour still among men, his honour will be still greater at the meeting of Doom, where he will be like every chief apostle, passing judgement on the men of Ireland unto whom he preached.  It is there he will shine forth like the sun in the union of saints and holy virgins of the world; in union of patriarchs and prophets; in the union of apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ, Son of living God; in the union of the Manhood of Jesus Christ son of God; in the union which is nobler than every (other) union; in the union of the holy, noble, venerable Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

I implore God’s mercy through Patrick’s intercession!  May we all attain to that union, may we deserve it, may we dwell there in saecula saeculorum! Amen!”


  1. Thank you Martha, for this wonderful multi-cultural, inter-denominational, educational experience! 😀
    Although I must say, I pretty much butchered that hymn to St. Patrick. Personally, I blame it all on my Germanic Lutheran heritage 😉
    But seriously, this was a wonderful article, milady. I do hope to see many more posts written by you!

  2. Cincygirl says

    Love St.Patrick’s Day…the one day a year that half of my ancestors get to be “Irish” instead of “hillbillies” 😀

    They are my kin…so I’m allowed to say it. 😉

  3. Thanks, Martha, and happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    Wherever the truth lies, we can celebrate and hold on to whatever points us to Christ:

    “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise…”

    Amen to that!

  4. Thanks, Martha! I always enjoy your sense of humor and your wide knowledge.

    “Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards” The prayer covered it all, didn’t it!

    I think McDonald’s will have green milkshakes today. And I think a lof of buttons that say, “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” will be worn.

    My mother visited Scotland and saw the name Dawson a lot (that’s my last name…I kept my maiden name) and the folks told her that even though my grandfather came to the US from England, if he was a Dawson he was a Scotsman. But, I also noticed recently when checking some things on the internet about Ireland that there are a lot of Dawson things there. So, who knows where my ancestry really comes from. I am not famous so I will never get on the show “Who Do You Think You Are” which I am enjoying watching.

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate it.

    • “Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards” The prayer covered it all, didn’t it!

      It’s even better when you think that the more familiar translation of that line is “Against spells of women and smiths” 🙂

      Women, you see, were by their very sex practitioners of magic and casters of spells. So every woman was more or less a witch 😉

      And smiths, naturally, because of the mystery of working with iron, that intractable magic metal that could only be melted by the hottest flame and was harder than all others, had the magic of their craft. That’s why ‘cold iron’ is a charm against the fairies, and why there are superstitions about the beneficial effects of the water used to quench the worked iron and so forth.

      • I never knew that about blacksmiths, Martha. Interesting.

        • How else did a boy named Arthur became king of the Britons?

          Pulling a sword out of a stone is symbolic of creating an iron tool out of ore. And that process has been seen as magical by people all over the world. When I was in Peace Corps (Liberia, 85-87) the men I worked with were complete familiar with machinery from radio broadcast equipment to airplanes. And yet they still spoke with awe of the men in their village who could work a magic that turned rocks into hoes and axes.

        • More Cool Stuff I Learned in Primary School, Joanie 🙂

  5. Very likely via the English pacification (some might say “ethnic cleansing”) of Scotland where the Highlands were effectively de-populated and sent to Ulster, hence the roots of the Catholic/Protestant conflict there. Many also emigrated to North America and settled in the frontier from western PA down to GA otherwise known as Appalachia. That became the cradle of American Presbyterianism.

    Go figure, a member of Clan MacDonald (although lost the “a” likely in Ulster–but draw the line under the “c”) in Orders for ordination into an Anglican province…I’m trusting my ancestors are not spinning too quickly…

  6. Martha,

    I was hoping we would here from you. I’m sure all you folks in Ireland get tired of hearing about everybody’s Ireland connection but here goes… My folks, the Goggans’ first settled in Virginia in the mid and early 1700’s. They came over from around Co. Cork. We don’t know why they would have been leaving at that time or how we ended up Protestants (except by God’s grace) Just kidding:) But I can’t figure that part out. But I love, absolutely love St. Patrick’s Day. I want to visit Ireland before it changes like so much of Europe is.

    We went to a fairly authentice Irish restraunt in Atlanta last Saturay and ate, I bought some Guiness for the fridge this week, and I will watch the best movie John Wayne ever made tonight- The Quiet Man. I’ll have my friends over for some corned beef this week as well.

    • austin, if your forebears emigrated in the early 18th century, it was probably due to a combination of factors. The wars of conquest in the preceding century (1649-1653 the ‘pacification’ of Ireland under Oliver Cromwell and 1691 the final defeat and collapse of the Catholic Jacobites in the Williamite wars leading to the establishment and dominance of the Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy) meant that, by the start of the 18th century, the English establishment were firmly in charge. As well, policies of plantation meant that immigrant settlers from England and Scotland were established on confiscated land (particularly in the North of Ireland).

      How they ended up Protestant? Depends; they might even have been Protestants before they emigrated (very strong efforts to convert the Irish or at least make Catholicism undesirable had been underway for a couple of centuries by this point, but took a whole new impetus from the imposition of the Penal Laws). If the Goggans of Cork were Non-Conformists, and small farmers or artisans, it might have made economic sense for them to emigrate (as always, North America – which included Canada as well as the United States – was seen as the golden land of opportunity).

      Wikipedia has a good article on this, though admittedly slanted towards an Irish Nationalist view:

      “In the wake of the wars of conquest of the 17th century, Irish antagonism towards England was aggravated by the economic situation of Ireland in the 18th century. Throughout the century English trade with Ireland was the most important branch of English overseas trade. The Protestant Anglo-Irish absentee landlords drew off some £800,000 in the early part of the century, rising to £1 million, in an economy that had a GDP of about £4 million. Completely deforested of timber for exports (usually to the Royal Navy) and for a temporary iron industry in the course of the 17th century, Irish estates turned to the export of salt beef, pork, butter, and hard cheese through the slaughterhouse and port city of Cork, which supplied England, the British navy and the sugar islands of the West Indies. The bishop of Cloyne wondered “how a foreigner could possibly conceive that half the inhabitants are dying of hunger in a country so abundant in foodstuffs?” In the 1740s, these economic inequalities, when combined with an exceptionally cold winter and poor harvest, led directly to the famine of 1740-1741, which killed about 400,000 people. In the 1780s, due to increased competition from salted-meat exporters in the Baltic and North America, the Anglo-Irish landowners rapidly switched to growing grain for export, while the Irish themselves ate potatoes and groats.

      Peasant secret societies became common in 18th century Ireland as the only means of tenant farmers to redress grievances against their landlords. Such groupings went by names like the Whiteboys, the Rightboys, the Hearts of Oak and the Steelboys. Issues that motivated them included high rents, evictions, enclosure of common lands and payment of tithes to the established Church of Ireland (most of the peasantry being Catholics). Methods used by the secret societies included the killing or maiming of livestock, tearing down of enclosure fences and occasionally violence against landlords, bailiffs and the militia. Rural discontent was exacerbated by the rapidly growing population – a trend that would continue until the Great Famine of the 1840s.

      The Irish Parliament of this era was almost exclusively Protestant in composition. Catholics had been barred from holding office in the early 17th century, barred from sitting in Parliament by mid-century and finally disenfranchised in 1727. …Presbyterians, who were concentrated in the northern province of Ulster and mostly descended from Scottish settlers, also suffered from the Penal Laws. They could sit in Parliament but not hold office. Both Catholics and Presbyterians were also barred from certain professions (such as law, the judiciary and the army) and had restrictions on inheriting land. Catholics could not bear arms or exercise their religion publicly.”

      The Penal Laws were levied to the gross disadvantage of the native Irish Catholic , but others also suffered. The Church of Ireland (that is, Anglicanism) was the state church established by law, so Dissenters (including Presbyterians) also suffered the penalties of the law. There were certain shifts and stratagems practiced; an elder son of a Catholic family might deliberately ‘convert’ to Protestantism (in practice, Anglicanism) so as to inherit the land and keep it in the family or an ambitious cousin or other family member might convert so as to lay claim to an estate and take possession of it from the rightful heirs. In mixed marriages, the custom was to raise the boys in the religion of their father (usually, though not always, Protestant) and the girls in the religion of their mother (again, usually though not always Catholic).

      Famine and emigration certainly peaked with the Great Hunger of 1845-48 but it certainly wasn’t the first famine Ireland suffered, nor the first bout of emigration, as can be seen in these lyrics excerpted from one version of “The Green Fields of America”:

      “So pack up your seastores now consider it no longer
      Ten dollars a week isn’t very bad pay
      With no taxes or tithes to devour up your wages
      Across on the green fields of Amerikay.

      The lint dams are gone and the looms are lying idle
      Gone are the winders of baskets and creels,
      And away o’er the ocean, go journeyman cowboy
      And fiddlers that play out the old mountain reels

      Ah and I mind the time when old Ireland was flourishing,
      And most of her tradesmen did work for good pay
      Ah, but since our manufacturers have crossed the Atlantic
      It’s now we must follow on to Amerikay.”

      The tithes refer to the fact that as the Church of Ireland was the legally established church, everyone had to pay for its support (this was usually made part of the rent), so even though the majority of the population were Catholics, they were still obliged by law to contribute to the upkeep of the Anglican church. And the references to the “lint dams” makes me think this song comes from UIster (the northern province of Ireland), since that is where the flax and linen industries were established. So even in the industrialised area of Ireland (the north and east), it was still better economically to emigrate.

      Hope this helps with your family history!

  7. Thank you all for your kind words, and especial thanks to Jeff for his very kind invitation. I can’t stop laughing at the very notion of being a contributor, but that’s not his fault.

    In line with tradition from time immemorial, a.k.a. “It always rains on St. Patrick’s Day”, today is overcast, windy and cold. Yesterday was beautiful – sunny, warm, blue skies, all daffodils and crocuses and flowering currant trees and birds singing, a real Spring day. Today – well, at least the rain is holding off 🙂

    So probably will head down to the street corner to watch the parade later, and court Death By Hypothermia as mentioned above.

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all, Irish, Irish-descended, and the unfortunates who don’t have a drop of green blood (hey – does that mean Vulcans are the ultimate Irish?)

    Lá shona daoibh go léir!

  8. This is great, Martha. I’d never read the full version of the Breastplate of St. Patrick — I like it very much. Blessings from someone who probably doesn’t have any Irish blood at all — almost an anomaly among Americans.

  9. St. Patrick, the holy and tutular man
    His beard down his bosom like Aaron’s ran:
    Some from Scotland, some from Wales, will declare that he came,
    But I care not from whence now he’s risen to fame;
    The pride of the world and his enemies scorning
    I will drink to St. Patrick, today in the Morning!

    He’s a desperate big, little Erin go brah;
    He will pardon our follies and promise us joy,
    By the mass, by the Pope, by St. Patrick so long
    As I live, I will give him a beautiful song!
    No saint is so good, Ireland’s country adorning:
    Then hail to St. Patrick, today, in the morning!

  10. Well done, Martha! Welcome to the guild of iMonk contributors. Your voice has been and I hope will continue to be a refreshment to us all.

    When you raise your glass to St. Patrick today, what will be in it? For those of us who must seek out the Irish imported brews, what do you recommend?

    Blessings, friend. Thank you again for writing.

    • I am actually sticking to fruit juice today, Chaplain Mike (as well as watching the horse-racing from Cheltenham).

      But whatever your favourite beverage is, raise a glass in honour of St. Patrick (it’s too late now for St. Brigid’s Day, the 1st of February, although it is she who allegedly wrote a poem that begins “I’d like to give a lake of beer to God”).


  11. … the St. Patrick’s Day badges (usually a cardboard gilt harp with ribbons in green, white and orange, the colour of the Tricolour) – an uneasy mix of piety and nationalism.
    Interesting to hear that American Christians aren’t the only ones saddled with “an uneasy mix of piety and nationalism.”

    Also, has anyone else here read Thomas Cahil’s excellent How the Irish Saved Civilization? It’s the source for most of my knowledge of St. Patrick and pre-Laudabiliter Ireland, and a fun read besides.

    Now off to give my 1/4-Irish wife a good-morning hug, and check to make sure the corned beef brisket is sufficiently defrosted …

    • I got a copy of the book for Christmas a couple of years ago. Very good read, if not a bit over stated. I am half Irish, my Father coming from Belfast.

    • I loved Cahill’s book too. I really enjoyed his description of the late and soon-to-fall Roman Empire. I’ll probably never get around to Gibbons’ “Decline and Fall” but this was sobering just the same.

      We (well, someone; I didn’t help any) traced my dad’s family back to Cork, but since there are no records of our ancestor in Ireland, we expect he changed his name when he arrived here in the Colonies.

    • Loved that book!

    • “Interesting to hear that American Christians aren’t the only ones saddled with “an uneasy mix of piety and nationalism.”

      Oh boy, yeah. Politics and history meant that matters soon polarised into “Irish = Catholic” and with the corollary that “Protestant = English (or not completely, properly Irish anyways)”. Which means that we have the uncomfortable situation still that after two, three or even four hundred years, there are people settled here who are still regarded as not exactly Irish – the remnants of the aristocracy (yes, we still have some earls and marquises around) naturally fit into this Anglo-Irish mode (they do make a habit of having their sons educated in England, which doesn’t help with the enculturation) but also the common folk who are Protestant of whatever flavour.

      So you got a very tangled situation where 18th century revolutionaries like Wolfe Tone (whose stated aim was “To unite Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter under the common name of Irishmen in order break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils”) and who were often themselves middle- or upper-class Protestants did not succeed, and in the 19th century matters had moved on to where in order to distinguish ourselves from Britain, it was a case of whatever England was, we weren’t. So if England was Protestant, we were Catholic; if England was Anglo-Saxon, we were Celts; if England was industrial, we were peasantry; if the British Empire was progress, we had a rich and ancient civilisation in our past.

      I’d recommend anyone to read George Bernard Shaw’s play, “John Bull’s Other Island”. As an Anglo-Irish Protestant from Dublin who emigrated to London for fame and fortune, he is impartial about clattering everyone; the English, who are both starry-eyed romantics about Celtic mythology and the Irish, and brutally practical about holding on to power over those same Irish Celts, and the Irish who are self-deluding by their concocted history and cyniccally exploiting that same concoction for advantage:

      “DOYLE. A nice introduction, by George! Do you suppose the whole population of Ireland consists of drunken begging letter writers, or that even if it did, they would accept one another as references?

      BROADBENT. Pooh! nonsense! He’s only an Irishman. Besides, you don’t seriously suppose that Haffigan can humbug me, do you?

      DOYLE. No: he’s too lazy to take the trouble. All he has to do is to sit there and drink your whisky while you humbug yourself. However, we needn’t argue about Haffigan, for two reasons. First, with your money in his pocket he will never reach Paddington: there are too many public houses on the way. Second, he’s not an Irishman at all.

      BROADBENT. Not an Irishman! [He is so amazed by the statement that he straightens himself and brings the stool bolt upright].

      DOYLE. Born in Glasgow. Never was in Ireland in his life. I know all about him.

      BROADBENT. But he spoke—he behaved just like an Irishman.

      DOYLE. Like an Irishman!! Is it possible that you don’t know that all this top-o-the-morning and broth-of-a-boy and more-power-to-your-elbow business is as peculiar to England as the Albert Hall concerts of Irish music are? No Irishman ever talks like that in Ireland, or ever did, or ever will. But when a thoroughly worthless Irishman comes to England, and finds the whole place full of romantic duffers like you, who will let him loaf and drink and sponge and brag as long as he flatters your sense of moral superiority by playing the fool and degrading himself and his country, he soon learns the antics that take you in. He picks them up at the theatre or the music hall. Haffigan learnt the rudiments from his father, who came from my part of Ireland. I knew his uncles, Matt and Andy Haffigan of Rosscullen.

      BROADBENT [still incredulous]. But his brogue!

      DOYLE. His brogue! A fat lot you know about brogues! I’ve heard you call a Dublin accent that you could hang your hat on, a brogue. Heaven help you! you don’t know the difference between Connemara and Rathmines. [With violent irritation] Oh, damn Tim Haffigan! Let’s drop the subject: he’s not worth wrangling about.

      … BROADBENT. Oh, come, Larry! do yourself justice. You’re very amusing and agreeable to strangers.

      DOYLE. Yes, to strangers. Perhaps if I was a bit stiffer to strangers, and a bit easier at home, like an Englishman, I’d be better company for you.

      BROADBENT. We get on well enough. Of course you have the melancholy of the Celtic race—

      DOYLE [bounding out of his chair] Good God!!!

      BROADBENT [slyly]—and also its habit of using strong language when there’s nothing the matter.

      DOYLE. Nothing the matter! When people talk about the Celtic race, I feel as if I could burn down London. That sort of rot does more harm than ten Coercion Acts. Do you suppose a man need be a Celt to feel melancholy in Rosscullen? Why, man, Ireland was peopled just as England was; and its breed was crossed by just the same invaders.”

      Ah, but even Shaw can fall into that same romantic reverie about Ireland – at least for a minute, and then he gets back to teasing the English 😉 :

      “DOYLE. My dear Tom, you only need a touch of the Irish climate to be as big a fool as I am myself. If all my Irish blood were poured into your veins, you wouldn’t turn a hair of your constitution and character. Go and marry the most English Englishwoman you can find, and then bring up your son in Rosscullen; and that son’s character will be so like mine and so unlike yours that everybody will accuse me of being his father. [With sudden anguish] Rosscullen! oh, good Lord, Rosscullen! The dullness! the hopelessness! the ignorance! the bigotry!

      BROADBENT [matter-of-factly]. The usual thing in the country, Larry. Just the same here.

      DOYLE [hastily]. No, no: the climate is different. Here, if the life is dull, you can be dull too, and no great harm done. [Going off into a passionate dream] But your wits can’t thicken in that soft moist air, on those white springy roads, in those misty rushes and brown bogs, on those hillsides of granite rocks and magenta heather. You’ve no such colors in the sky, no such lure in the distances, no such sadness in the evenings. Oh, the dreaming! the dreaming! the torturing, heartscalding, never satisfying dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming! [Savagely] No debauchery that ever coarsened and brutalized an Englishman can take the worth and usefulness out of him like that dreaming. An Irishman’s imagination never lets him alone, never convinces him, never satisfies him; but it makes him that he can’t face reality nor deal with it nor handle it nor conquer it: he can only sneer at them that do, and [bitterly, at Broadbent] be “agreeable to strangers,” like a good-for-nothing woman on the streets. [Gabbling at Broadbent across the table] It’s all dreaming, all imagination. He can’t be religious. The inspired Churchman that teaches him the sanctity of life and the importance of conduct is sent away empty; while the poor village priest that gives him a miracle or a sentimental story of a saint, has cathedrals built for him out of the pennies of the poor. He can’t be intelligently political, he dreams of what the Shan Van Vocht said in ninety-eight. If you want to interest him in Ireland you’ve got to call the unfortunate island Kathleen ni Hoolihan and pretend she’s a little old woman. It saves thinking. It saves working. It saves everything except imagination, imagination, imagination; and imagination’s such a torture that you can’t bear it without whisky. [With fierce shivering self-contempt] At last you get that you can bear nothing real at all: you’d rather starve than cook a meal; you’d rather go shabby and dirty than set your mind to take care of your clothes and wash yourself; you nag and squabble at home because your wife isn’t an angel, and she despises you because you’re not a hero; and you hate the whole lot round you because they’re only poor slovenly useless devils like yourself. [Dropping his voice like a man making some shameful confidence] And all the while there goes on a horrible, senseless, mischievous laughter. When you’re young, you exchange drinks with other young men; and you exchange vile stories with them; and as you’re too futile to be able to help or cheer them, you chaff and sneer and taunt them for not doing the things you daren’t do yourself. And all the time you laugh, laugh, laugh! eternal derision, eternal envy, eternal folly, eternal fouling and staining and degrading, until, when you come at last to a country where men take a question seriously and give a serious answer to it, you deride them for having no sense of humor, and plume yourself on your own worthlessness as if it made you better than them.

      BROADBENT [roused to intense earnestness by Doyle’s eloquence]. Never despair, Larry. There are great possibilities for Ireland. Home Rule will work wonders under English guidance.

      DOYLE [pulled up short, his face twitching with a reluctant smile]. Tom: why do you select my most tragic moments for your most irresistible strokes of humor?

      BROADBENT. Humor! I was perfectly serious. What do you mean? Do you doubt my seriousness about Home Rule?

      DOYLE. I am sure you are serious, Tom, about the English guidance.

      BROADBENT [quite reassured]. Of course I am. Our guidance is the important thing. We English must place our capacity for government without stint at the service of nations who are less fortunately endowed in that respect; so as to allow them to develop in perfect freedom to the English level of self-government, you know. You understand me?

      DOYLE. Perfectly. And Rosscullen will understand you too. “

      • cermak_rd says

        A guy gets in a cab in Belfast and the cabbie turns and says, so, are you Catholic or Protestant?

        Guy replies neither, I’m an atheist.

        Cabbie responds, would that be Catholic atheist or Protestant atheist.

        And I’ve heard it used with Buddhist, Jew, Hindu …

  12. What a fun post to read! I think we’ve found a new contributor!

  13. Martha, thank you for writing. I always enjoy reading what you have to say. You bring humor, intellect, a bit of sass and a great love for God.

    Visiting Ireland some day is at the top of my bucket list. (My dad’s family is mostly Irish.) One of my daughters was there last year on business for an extended stay and fell in love with the country and people.

  14. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    Good stuff, Martha! FWIW, I was baptized on St. Patrick’s Day, so I’ve always had a bit of an affinity with the Apostle to the Irish and his spiritual children.

  15. Damaris is not at all Irish, but her children are! Ha!

    If Chaplain Mike can open this thread to include Irish beverages, perhaps I can be excused for expanding it further to include the greatest Irish rock band. And, no, it’s not U2:



    Martha, I have a question. How come we remember and celebrate St. Patrick rather than St. Columba, who actually did what Patrick is only fabled to have done?

    • Andy Z, I believe we can blame a fellow-countyman of my own for that!

      Luke Wadding, a 17th century Franciscan friar from Waterford city, got the feast of St. Patrick recognised as a feast-day of the Universal Church (and not just a local observance).

      There would seem not to have been anyone to do as much for St. Columcille (feast day 9th June). If you want to take up his cause, I’m sure it would be welcome!

      Also, the vast majority of Irish saints who swarmed over Europe and evangelised them were incorporated into their adopted cultures so much they’re probably not recognised as Irish. I give you the example of San Cataldo of Taranto in Italy; he’s Anglicised Cathaldus (well, that’s more Anglo-Latinised) but he’s originally Cathal of Canty, Lismore, Co. Waterford.

      The people of Taranto have a huge celebration in his honour, while over here, he’s practically forgotten (we wouldn’t even know of the connection except that when the Technical School here in Dungarvan re-named itself in honour of St. Cathaldus – Coláiste Chathail Naofa, if anyone wants to Google us – all these connections came to light). Think about St Gall in Switzerland – does it immediately leap to mind that Gall was Irish? Or Fiacre of Paris – Fiachra of Kilkenny? Vergil of Saltzburg (and all the Vergils) who was originally Feargall?


  16. This is my favorite translation of Patrick’s Breastplate:

    I bind unto myself today
    the strong Name of the Trinity,
    by invocation of the same,
    the Three in One, and One in Three.
    I bind this day to me for ever,
    by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
    his baptism in Jordan river;
    his death on cross for my salvation;
    his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
    his riding up the heavenly way;
    his coming at the day of doom:
    I bind unto myself today.

    I bind unto myself the power
    of the great love of cherubim;
    the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
    the service of the seraphim;
    confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
    the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
    all good deeds done unto the Lord,
    and purity of virgin souls.

    I bind unto myself today
    the virtues of the starlit heaven
    the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
    the whiteness of the moon at even,
    the flashing of the lightning free,
    the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
    the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
    around the old eternal rocks.

    I bind unto myself today
    the power of God to hold and lead,
    his eye to watch, his might to stay,
    his ear to hearken, to my need;
    the wisdom of my God to teach,
    his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
    the word of God to give me speech,
    his heavenly host to be my guard.

    Christ be with me,
    Christ within me,
    Christ behind me,
    Christ before me,
    Christ beside me,
    Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort
    and restore me.
    Christ beneath me,
    Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet,
    Christ in danger,
    Christ in hearts of
    all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of
    friend and stranger.

    I bind unto myself today
    the strong Name of the Trinity,
    by invocation of the same,
    the Three in One, and One in Three.
    Of whom all nature hath creation,
    eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
    praise to the Lord of my salvation,
    salvation is of Christ the Lord.

    trans. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), 1889

  17. The Singular Observer says

    We recently were able to trace some of my wife’s ancestory back to Ireland – and this is the First St Patrick’s Day since that, so the celebration will gain some momentum in our household – although the ancestor left Ireland just before the dawn of the 19th Century, and then went and married an English girl in a Wesleyan Chapel (!), before becoming part of the 1820 Settlers in South Africa. But, on the positive side, his surname was – you guessed it – Patrick!

    Me on the other hand have no Celtic, never mind Irish, ancestory.

  18. Most proud to be descended from the McDowell clan of Armagh! I’ll enjoy my pint tonight after conemplating the Lorica a bit…

  19. cermak_rd says

    Here in Chicago, I’ve most often heard it called St. Pat’s. We celebrated with our parade and dying of the river and such last Saturday. We moved the city festivities a few years back due to certain after-effects of a day of carousing and drinking cheap green beer and expensive Irish whiskey.

    Now my mother’s folks came from County Fermanagh…one of the disputed provinces to the north, there. I thank heaven that the killing there stopped, if not the hard feelings. From what I understand my folks over there were true Fenians. And so I grew up hearing the Grandma on one side humming “Boolavogue”, “The Minstrel Boy”, “The Merry Plowboy” and a lot of those dreadfully sentimental, schlocky American songs like “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and “The Irish Lullaby.” And on the other a grandma who cracked wise with the Yiddish humor.

    And so today, I’m wearing a St Pat’s themed shirt my husband bought me. It has a shamrock, the word ireland, lots of green, orange and white and, now that I’ve looked at it closer, a Celtic cross!

    • cermak, thank God indeed for the Peace Process.

      A funny take on the “colour problem” is a song called “The Orange and the Green” (written by a Murphy from Liverpool in England!)


      • Martha said, “thank God indeed for the Peace Process.”

        I think my fellow Mainer, George Mitchell, helped in coming up with something that would keep in the peace. I like George. I think he would make a good American President.

      • cermak_rd says

        That one is actually one of my faves. Discovered it in college and learned to play it on the 12 string.

  20. Oh Martha,…

    How i laughed through this article – like a good Irish song your responses always invoke that “Ireland my homeland is calling me” kind of feeling – even though my Coughlin ancestors have been here before the famine (1843 – from Skibbereen, County Cork according to tradition). His Irish Brogue was so bad that they screwed up his name when he came over (assumingly he just walked off the boat in New York since at that time there was no “processing center”) – hence mine is no longer Coughlin – tradition states he didn’t mind as it helped him a bit in his trade as a shoe maker (and liquor brewer as stories go).

  21. “It is most emphatically not St. Patty’s Day, and you have my imprimatur to shoot anyone who uses the term. Well, maybe shooting is a bit much – a blunt instrument smartly applied to the back of the head is probably enough.”

    A blunt object….like a shillelagh?

    Sorry, I had to! Great article, thanks,


    • Nate, I will leave the choice of instrument up to local tradition and cultural practice. I don’t want to be prescriptive in matters that are adiaphora, after all 🙂

  22. I used to teach children aged 6 to 9 and heavily emphasize grammar during Lent. (I figure it is a form of discipline.) A couple of years ago we did the parts of speech found in the Deer’s Cry. The kids loved thinking through what the various verses meant – even while the struggled to figure out what is the noun and verb in some of the sentences.

  23. “Remember, reading my digressions with patience and offering it up in a spirit of mortification is chipping away at your time in Purgatory – it’s the equivalent of a partial indulgence!”

    You’re a great writer, and have enjoyed reading your comments on this website. This one made me laugh out loud!

  24. But for good Irish music, nothing can top this…


  25. Thanks for de-romanticizing St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Martha!

  26. What a blessing, Martha! Loved your article, and a look into how Great-Grandfather might have experienced the Feast Day before he got on that boat headed west. (My husband and I have a mixed marriage….his people were from County Clare, mine from Cork! 🙂

    I also am thrilled to find another human outside of my family who is a fan of Cahill….how he can blend history and humor is a true gift. How could I not read a book with a title like “How the Irish SAved Civilization”. ????

    And all half in fun aside, this has always been a special day for me…growing up in Catholic schools we celebrated Saint’s Feasts rather than our birthdays, and mine always ROCKED!!

  27. Josh in FW says


    Here’s a story for your Irish history archives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick's_Battalion. Few Americans are aware of the Protestan vs. Catholic overtones of the Mexican-American War.

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