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Mary Hogan: St Patrick 's Day and that unbroken tradition that continues to tell us who we are


The St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin

The St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin

The St Patrick's Day parade in Dublin

FOR quite a while, St. Patrick – together with everything Irish – was cast disdainfully aside. St. Patrick’s day itself, apart from the token parade, was an out-of-control drink-fest, with our young people staggering and brawling around our streets. Thankfully, due to myriad factors, we have re-claimed our collective Irish National identity and are justifiably proud of ourselves. And St. Patrick has been brought in from the cold. We now celebrate our National Day as joyfully as America has always done.

It is immaterial whether St. Patrick was Welsh and brought to Ireland as a slave. Whether he really held up a shamrock to represent the Trinity and drove “snakes” from Ireland may or may not be true, although it is highly likely that just as he used the shamrock merely as a demonstration, so did the “snakes” represent evil and a harmful belief system.

As a child, the romance and symbolism of this story had a profound impact. I mean, what child could resist the fascinating depiction of a man in green, with a tall mitre and brandishing a threatening crosier, sternly banishing snakes into the sea? Or the vision of this man, shamrock aloft, offering a highly believable explanation for the Three Persons in the One God? Not to speak of the vivid imagery and mystery of an unquenchable fire burning brightly on the Hill of Slane?

As an adult, what matters to me about St. Patrick is the Tradition. “Tradition!” The rousing overture to Fiddler on the Roof resonates long after the curtain descends. Appreciating our past, so richly steeped in Tradition, will enhance our children’s future. Each generation professes despair for “the youth of today” but, thankfully, many in each generation prove proud standard-bearers for the future because Tradition is ingrained in our psyche/DNA. As small children at school, we listened, absorbed, to the story of St. Patrick. Lesson over, we sang the following hymn with proud fervour:

“Hail glorious St. Patrick, dear saint of our isle

On us thy poor children, bestow a sweet smile…”

Even today, when the actual day arrives, Mass is well attended. The tradition of a sea of huge green bows adorning little girls’ hair, with both boys and girls sporting green badges or rosettes, decorated with the harp, is still evident.

Tradition was next to Godliness to my mother, so she made a particularly special celebration of the occasion. Home from the Parade, we tucked into the traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage. For dessert, we enjoyed (wait for it!) green jelly, (yellow) custard and (white) cream! Weeks beforehand, our maternal grandfather posted our badges/rosettes to us. And guess what? Yes, she carried on the Tradition of annually supplying the badges for my children. Naturally, I followed her example of the Traditional Dinner.

My adult memories of St. Patrick’s Day are many and varied. March 17th. was unofficially designated the first day of hiking up the mountains with a picnic lunch. Judy was our first Golden Labrador pup immediately we got married and we were besotted with her. Fully aware of the dangers of distemper, she was not brought outside pending her injections. Not recognising the danger, though, I allowed a neighbouring pup into the house to play with Judy. Foolish me! Judy caught distemper and all treatment proved fruitless. The night she was injected for her eternal sleep, we cried like babies – inconsolable. It was the 16th. March and we had planned to hike off for St. Patrick’s Day with another couple. Broken-hearted, we contacted them to cancel. Not being dog lovers, perhaps they failed to empathise with the depth of our sorrow. In any event, they were highly displeased when we cancelled and that was the end of a beautiful friendship!

The Dublin Parade was mandatory when our two little guys were small. The older one was allowed in to the barrier and the younger child viewed the colourful display from the vantage point of Dad’s shoulders. One year, we stupidly positioned ourselves at a T-junction and the icy March wind blew full force into my neck. As June Carter chirped in the biopic. of herself and Johnny Cash, “I got the Laryngitis.” That put an end, for quite a while, to my illustrious career as a soprano in the local musical society. Happily, I shattered crystal chandeliers again, eventually!

Our little daughter was born on 1st. December and died on 31st. December. Prior to the subsequent St. Patrick’s Day, the badges with harps arrived as usual from my mother – four badges; my precious, dead Áine was included! Grief/Joy – opposite sides of the same coin –overwhelmed me. So, we placed Áine’s badge with the harp under safe cover on her grave. Yearly, we added another one, until an over-zealous relative, unaware, cast them on the cemetery tip.

Nowadays, I experience the pleasure of continuing Tradition when I provide two badges with harps for babies Anna and Tadhg.

The Echoes that Remain

“There are memories of the past,/Links of a broken chain, Thoughts that can bear me back to times/That will never come again./May God forbid that I should lose/The Echoes that remain.”