Sunday, March 17, 2013

Patrick, Pagans, and My Irish Ancestors

Here we are again celebrating the Irish. ...and that's exactly what we do here in America on St. Patrick's Day: We celebrate the Irish. We drink. We wear green. We hunt for four-leaf clovers under the snow. Yet, there is a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there about what St. Patrick's Day really is.

St. Patrick was a Romano-British lad that converted to the Christianity of his Roman dad, and purportedly "drove the snakes" out of Ireland. Of course, the "snakes" (and "toads") were a symbol for the Pagans and Druids in Ireland. There wasn't much mention of him until the 17th century when he and his story were given a special holiday by the church. He was never canonized; so in all actuality, he's just Patrick (sans the St.). There really are no bold, broad facts that prove the myth of the expulsion of the Druids and Pagans. In fact, as in most conversion history, it is far more likely that the Druids and Pagans were not driven out, but in fact, were slowly absorbed into a faith that adopted their rites and rituals in order to convert them.

As a Pagan, I do not feel the need to spit upon the holiday. American Irish can attest to the history in this country of the treatment of the Irish. During the 19th century, when large numbers of Irish were emigrating to the United States, most of them were treated poorly, due, in large part, to the great multitude of Irish Catholics (although my personal Irish ancestors were not Catholic). They were treated as servants and looked upon as second-rate humans. "No Irish Need Apply" became a slogan on the East coast. Therefore, in honor of my Irish-American immigrant ancestors, I celebrate this day. I will wear green, not because the shamrock is green and symbolizes the holy trinity, but because Ireland is green. I will remember Eliza Adams who came to America with her bastard son, William, to escape both the famine and the stigma of being an unwed mother. I will celebrate John Morrow, who not only came to America to be treated poorly, but fought at Gettysburg and survived. I will celebrate William and Isabella McElroy who brought all thirteen of their children to America to escape poverty in Ireland.

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