“Celtic languages are traditionally thought to have originated in central Europe and spread across vast areas of Europe, being gradually replaced by Germanic, Romance, or Slavic languages in most areas. The Continental Celtic languages, such as Gaulish, Hispano-Celtic, and Lepontic, are all now long extinct.” – Oxfordbibliographies.com
Today, the “insular” Celtic languages are all that’s left, relegated to two sub-groups: the Goidelic (or Gaelic) spoken by Irish and Scots speakers and once on the Isle of Man, and the Brythonic or Brittonic once spoken in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall.
Today we know him as “Patrick” but his birth name was Maewyn Succat in his native Brythonic. His father was Calpornius, a Deacon of the Church and an officer in the Roman Army. As a boy, Maewyn Succat had little time for religion.
He was a late fifth-century Roman teenager living in Great Britain when he was kidnapped by pirates at the age of 16, and brought to Ireland. There he found religion during six years as a slave, tending sheep and hogs in county Antrim. He would escape in time to rejoin his family before traveling to France, to join a Monastery. In twelve years he returned to the shores of Ireland, this time as a Bishop, with the blessing of the Pope.
There he came to be known as Patricius in the Latin (“nobleman”) or Pádraig (Gaelic), a simple priest ministering to Irish Christians and converting the pagan, to Christianity. In time, “Patrick” would go on to become Bishop of all Ireland, and one of its primary Patron Saints.
Interestingly, Patrick is listed among the 10,000 or so Roman Catholic Saints though it seems he never was actually canonized, by a pope.
Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date generally agreed to be the date of his enslavement in 432 and his death in 460.
The date is celebrated in Ireland as both a liturgical and non-liturgical holiday, where in some diocese it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation. Outside of Ireland, the day has become a general celebration of all things Irish.
The legend that St. Patrick banished the snakes likely springs from his work converting the pagans of his day, many of whom wore snake tattoos on their arms. This idea is supported by a Gallic coin of the time, which carries on its face the Druidic snake.
Be that as it may, Ireland has no snakes today, a trait it has in common with Antarctica, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.Another legend involves a walking stick of ash, which Patrick carried with him wherever he went. He would thrust this stick into the ground wherever he would preach. At a place now known as Aspatria, (ash of Patrick), the message took so long to get through to the people that the stick took root.
The shamrock which came to symbolize the day was seen as sacred by many in pre-Christian Ireland, with its green color evoking rebirth and eternal life.
The three leaves symbolize the “triple goddess” of ancient Ireland. Patrick is said to have taught the Irish about the Holy Trinity, using the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Most of the rest of Europe would suffer barbarian invasion from the fifth century onward, plunging into what are known today as “The Dark Ages”. Almost alone, cloistered monks in the monasteries of Ireland, spiritual descendants of St. Patrick, acted as repository for Christian civilization, at a time when such advancement was almost extinguished elsewhere.
It’s been said of this period that the Irish saved civilization. Who knows. They may have done just that. On this day it’s said that everyone’s Irish. Here in the US some some 33 million really are according to census data, nearly seven times the population of Ireland itself.
So here we are. A parade dating back to 1737 here in Boston is canceled, as we all hide from the Wu Flu. So lift a glass to Saint Patrick, though the streets be empty and the bars be closed. “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven, half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead” Sláinte.