Tuesday 23 January 2018

Lay of the Land: When a drop of Paddy's can help lift the spirits

The River Boyne at Dowth, near Drogheda Picture: Fennell Photography
The River Boyne at Dowth, near Drogheda Picture: Fennell Photography

Fiona O'Connell

This Friday promises plenty of pandemonium as we celebrate a certain popular saint. Though whatever about the pomp and ceremony of St Patrick's Day parades, there should be no shortage of sozzled citizens making spectacles of themselves countrywide. Many will be drowning not just the shamrock but also all common sense, ending up three sheets to the wind.

But you could call it spiritual solidarity. After all, what could be more appropriate than making a holy show of oneself during the season of the Holy Spirit? Especially on the day dedicated to a patron saint who was himself sometimes capable of swapping sermons about the Spirit in favour of turning a callous thief into one.

Or so goes the story behind a weird drumming sound that can be heard on certain dark nights not far from Drogheda, close to the River Boyne. Apparently it is the earthbound spirit of a rogue who really got Saint Patrick's goat - literally.

The animal in question was of merry disposition and, not only provided milk for the pious preacher, but also kept him amused by his tricks and pranks. Making the saint not so much a devotee as a goatee.

So imagine his horror when one awful morning he discovered that his beloved billy goat was gone and only a cut rope left behind! His faithful followers searched high and low in vain, for the poor creature had already been turned into goat soup and gobbled up by the greedy thief. Not only that, but the animal abuser added insult to injury by making a drum of the skin, so he could beat a rousing tattoo to show his contempt for the Christian crusader.

Maybe he assumed good men couldn't be gruff. But he soon discovered the dire consequences of pushing this Patrick too far. For the seething saint put a curse upon the thug, so he became a witless wanderer playing his shameful drum from door to door and barely surviving on the scraps that housewives gave him.

There was no release, even after the end of his ill-spent life, for his spirit still drums dolefully along the Boyne as a solemn warning to all green-eyed monsters who prey on other people's pets.

Such spiteful spirits are supposedly condemned forever because of their crimes and nothing can be done to help them. For not all phantoms are to be feared. Which clearly wasn't news to the honest man who woke one night to find a black shape bending over him. The old tale tells how he waited patiently, but the shape was clearly the strong, spooky type and made no move or sound.

"You'll excuse me," the exasperated mortal finally said, "but I have me day's work before me tomorrow and I never heard that your crowd were much troubled with toil. So if you don't mind, I'll go back to sleep for myself". And with that he turned over and left the shape completely at a loss as to what to do next.

Though probably severely bent out of shape by discovering his not-so-super (if still not natural) powers.

A drop of Paddy's might have lifted his spirits.

Sunday Independent

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