Reflections: The day we're all Irish!
The day we're all Irish!
By William L. Bulla
Weekly Contributing Writer
I have heard it said, "There are only two nationalities in the world: The Irish and those who would like to be Irish."
Every year as we get close to March 17, and the celebration of St. Patrick's Day, that seems to be true. Suddenly we see people dressed in green, wearing shamrocks in the form of jewelry or lapel pins. They greet one another using Gaelic terms in a bad impersonation of an Irish brogue. Well, maybe not real Gaelic terms, but in what has become known as "stage Irish", as created by early English authors in their plays.
It was my intention to write a column on the celebration of St. Patrick's Day, but as I got started I became interested in the many expressions the Irish have added to our English vocabulary, and caught up in the excitement of the day. I do want to recognize St. Patrick's Day, however, and give a short explanation of his impact on the world. The person who became St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales. His given name was Maewyn. He was sold into slavery at the age of 16 by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. He escaped from slavery after six years, and studied at a seminary in Gaul for a period of twelve years. He returned to Ireland to convert the pagans to Christianity. It is said he used the shamrock, a three leafed plant to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. In Ireland it is both a national and religious holiday commemorating the day he died in the year AD461.
Some people refer to it as St. Paddy's Day. This is considered as a derogative word for Irishmen. It began when the Irish began to come to America. Paddy was derived from the common Irish name Patrick. The Irish had a reputation for being drunken and unruly. The police would cart them off in a horse drawn wagon that became known as a "paddy wagon".
One phrase often used refers to the "luck of the Irish". This term doesn't mean what most people think. Most refer to it as the "good luck" of the Irish, yet it was coined to reflect the extreme "poor luck" of the Irish people. It was a reference to the hard times the Irish people seemed to have following the potato famine.
There are several expressions we use in our communication with others that come from the Irish. "Taking the cake" dates back to an Irish custom in the days of cake dances. Local musicians and residents gathered for a party. Someone would bring a cake that would be displayed on a white tablecloth draped over a milk churn. Everyone partied and danced throughout the evening. At some point during the evening, a person was announced as the winner of the cake, who then shared it with everyone else.
The expression "tying the knot" also came from the Irish. This term for getting engaged or getting married came from the Celtic tradition of hand fasting where the hands of engaged-couples were tied together to show their commitment to one another.
"Potluck" to the Irish means a meal with no particular menu. Everyone participating brought a dish to share. The term actually comes from the times when groups of Irish women would gather and cook dinner. They had only one pot so they cooked the meal together with whatever ingredients they happened to have.
And of course there is "kiss the Blarney stone". This is a term that means smooth talk. It also suggests that what you are saying is nonsense. The Blarney stone is a stone located in the battlement on top of the tower of Blarney Castle in county Cork. Irish tradition says that if a person goes to the castle and kisses the Blarney stone he will be given the gift of gab.
There are dozens of Irish blessings, but you are lucky to hear them just once. Of course, the most famous one:
"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand."
Then, with the Irish, we are told about leprechauns. Leprechaun's are little make-believe fairies, called "wee folk", that live in Ireland. They usually take on the form of an old man, clad in a red or green coat, who enjoys partaking in mischief. As mischievous and intelligent folk, they are harmless to the general population in Ireland, although they are known to play odd tricks on farmers and the local population of villages and towns.
It is said that every leprechaun has a pot of gold, hidden deep in the Irish countryside. To protect the leprechaun's pot of gold the Irish fairies gave them magical powers to use if ever captured by a human or an animal. Such magic an Irish leprechaun would perform to escape capture would be to grant three wishes or to vanish into thin air!
Leprechauns are also very keen musicians who play tin whistles, the fiddle and even the Irish Harp and various other Irish traditional instruments. They are said to have wild music sessions at night where hundreds of Irish leprechauns gathering to dance, sing and drink.
Its no easy task to catch a leprechaun as they remain very well hidden from us humans, so it may be very difficult for you to capture their pot of gold.
Just imagine tin whistles, music, dancing, pots of gold, "wee folk", and the happy greetings from many people. That's a day that really, "Takes the cake!" Now you know why all people may like to think they are a "wee-bit Irish!"
William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.