“St. Patrick’s Day, no more we’ll keep, his color can’t be seen, they’ve passed a bloody law ‘agin, (against) the wearing of the green”. Thus went the words of a song we sang when I was in grade school. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that the word ‘bloody’ was a curse word, and not used in polite company! Friday, the 17th is St. Patrick’s Day, a day the Irish and the “wanna be” Irish celebrate. “Erin go Bragh”, shillelagh, shamrocks, green ribbons, scones, and Irish stew will be the order of the day. Over the years in reading different books and articles, I’ve come across the Irish cop (usually in Chicago, sometimes in New York) telling someone to straighten out, “Before I lay me shillelagh up alongside your head”.
When it comes to stories about St. Patrick, legend and truth are totally intertwined.
The young man who was to later become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales around AD 385. His given name was Maewyn, and due to lack of required scholarship, he almost didn’t get the job of Bishop of Ireland.
Until the age of 16, he considered himself a pagan. At that time, after a raid on his village, he and other young men were sold into slavery in Ireland. During his time of captivity, he learned the Irish language and also moved closer to God.
After six years, he was able to escape from slavery and went to Gaul. There, he studied in the Monastery under St. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, for a period of 12 years. While he was in training, he became aware that he was being called to convert the pagans to Christianity. He was ordained as a deacon, then as a priest and finally as a bishop. Pope Celestine then sent him to Ireland to preach the gospel. He became a great traveler, especially in the Celtic countries, as they are numerous places in Brittany, Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Ireland named after him.
St. Patrick is most known the world over for having driven the snakes from Ireland. Different tales tell of his standing upon a hill, using a wooden staff to drive the serpents into the sea, banishing them forever from the shores of Ireland. One legend says that one old serpent resisted, but the saint overcame it by cunning. He is said to have made a box and invited the reptile to enter. The snake insisted the box was too small, and the discussion became very heated. Finally, the snake entered the box to prove he was right, whereupon St. Patrick slammed the lid and cast the box into the sea.
While it is true that there are no snakes in Ireland, chances are that there never have been since the time the island was separated from the rest of the continent at the end of the ice age. As in many old pagan religions, serpent symbols were common, and possibly even worshipped. Driving the snakes from Ireland was probably symbolic of putting an end to that pagan practice.
While not the first to bring Christianity to Ireland, it was Patrick who encountered the Druids at Tara, and abolished their pagan rights. He converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the holy Wells, which still bear that name.
According to tradition, St. Patrick died in AD 493 and was buried in the same grave as St. Bridget and St. Columba at Donpatrick County. According to other information I have found, St. Patrick died on March 17, in AD 461 and that day has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.
Another legend says St. Patrick ended his days at Glastonbury and was buried there. The Chapel of St. Patrick still exists as part of Glastonbury abbey. There is evidence of an Irish pilgrimage to his tomb during the reign of the Saxon King Ine in AD 688, when a group of pilgrims headed by St. Indractus were murdered.
The shamrock has long been associated with St. Patrick. He used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. It was used in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. At one time, the shamrock was called the “Seamroy,” and symbolizes and cross and the Trinity. Before the era of Christianity, it was a sacred plant of the Druids of Ireland because its leaves formed a triad.
The followers of Patrick adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day. The custom of celebrating St. Patricks Day came to America in 1737, when it was celebrated publicly in Boston for the first time.
The Irish have their own language, Gaelic. One (of several) of the assistant pastors at our church in San Antonio spoke and wrote the language fluently. When written, it looks nothing like what we are used to seeing!
Now, not only do they have their own language, they also use different names for things than might normally be used here in America. Here are a few of the more common; biscuits-cookies; bangers-sausage; colcannon-boiled cabbage and potatoes; coddle-a stew made from pork, sausage, potatoes and onions; champ or poundies-mashed potatoes with green onions and a well of butter in the middle; praties-potatoes; rasher-slice of bacon; crubeens-pigs feet (trotters) cooked with carrots, onions and spices or dipped in seasoned breadcrumbs and fried; and, believe it or not, corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional Irish dish! So, you ask, what is traditional food? One could start the day with a dish of porridge with a topping of cream or honey, followed by a full Irish breakfast fry, consisting of sausage, bacon, fried eggs, fried tomatoes, black pudding, white pudding, toast and brown soda bread. In accompaniment, there would also be a large pot of fresh tea, marmalade and honey. Here are a few more items that are considered traditional Irish recipes (those that are at least fifty years old). Soda bread, oatcakes, gingerbread loaf, seed cake, basic scones, porter cake, Irish whiskey cake, Irish omelet, oatmeal bacon pancakes, sorrel soup, boiled bacon and cabbage, beef and stout casserole, potted chicken, baked tripe, chicken and leek pie, apple mash and Irish stew or lamb stew. Irish stew is traditionally made of lamb or mutton, potatoes, onions and parsley. Frequently, lamb or mutton neck bones, shanks and other trimmings were the basis for the stock. The root vegetables, turnips, parsnips or carrots add further flavor and thickening power, as well as filling sustenance.
4 to 5 pounds short ribs
7 small red potatoes
2 medium onions
Salt and pepper
1 cup flour
3 cups water
3 beef bouillon cubes
½ cup cooking oil
Dissolve bouillon cubes in water and place over medium heat until just under boiling. Keep hot on low heat. Season meat with salt and pepper, dredge in flour and brown a few at a time in oil. Place in a large Dutch oven or roaster and set aside as you add more meat to the skillet. Fry onions in same pan with ½ cup of the flour left over from dredging the meat, until lightly browned. Add to ribs. Add water in which you have dissolved bouillon cubes, cover and cook about 1 to 1½ hours. While meat is cooking, peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Peel carrots and cut into ½-inch chunks (or use baby carrots and leave them whole), when meat has cooked the 1 to 1½ hours, add the vegetables and cook an additional hour, or until the vegetables are tender.
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon whiskey or brandy (optional)
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a lightly greased 9-inch square pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the paper. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add whiskey or brandy if used, sift flour and baking powder together and add dry ingredients and eggs alternately to butter mixture, mixing well. Stir in caraway seeds and then pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Leave in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire rack.
Note from Joyce: I have not tried this recipe and not positive about the measurements as I had to change some of them from metric!