Won’t be long now. Time to put on our finery, tip a ‘pint’ or two, load up a plate of corn beef and cabbage, and pay homage to the “Apostle of Ireland” who is said to have driven all the snakes out of the Emerald Isle (scientists say there weren’t any there to begin with), and who liked to use a sprig of clover (a shamrock) while sermonizing to illustrate the Holy Trinity. That was some 1,500 years ago. Today, somehow, incredibly, our reverence for St. Patrick has fermented into a day of revelry, parades, and jam-packed Irish pubs here in America, where and when as they say, “we are all Irish.” And many of us have had hangovers to prove it.
I read somewhere that nearly $5 billion was spent by “Irish” party-goers in the U.S. during last year’s wearin’ (and spendin’) of the green. That’s a lot of “suds” and cabbage. With the economy on the up-tick, it’s easy to imagine it will be even more this year. As a public service, and a helpful boost to the economy, I am pleased to note here that this year St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated on Friday, March 17th (and no doubt well into the 18th) leaving the Sabbath for rest, recuperation and a whole lot of Hail Mary’s. For those who refrain from celebratin’ for dietary reasons, pay heed to the wisdom and wit of musician-humorist Gerard Way who says: “Drinking beer doesn’t make you fat. It makes you lean … against bars, tables, chairs and poles.”
But back to Patrick himself. They say that the peripatetic Saint trapsed around fifth century Ireland and England carrying an ash wood walking stick. No doubt in my mind, for those of you with Guiness on your minds, that it was an “extra stout” piece of timber. Wandering hither and thither, he would stop to do a little evangelizing for the folks who’d gather round itching for a good sermon, and would thrust his staff into the ground while he waxed eloquent in an attempt to save souls. That suggests to me that he may have been a real two-fisted orator who used gestures galore to make his points stick (excuse the play on words). Or, perhaps Patrick used the staff as a prop on which to hang his notes, thus also becoming the father of the modern day tele-prompter.
At any rate, at a place called Aspatria, way up in northern England, the good Saint is said to have gotten so all fired-up and pontificated for so long during one fiery sermon, that the stuck stick actually took root by the time he had finished preaching. I had a minister who had that same capability. I no longer go to that Church, but shortly will tell you how his long-windedness was quieted one Sunday morn.
Meantime, in my exhaustive search for the truth, I have been unable to determine if, when finished with his sermon, Saint Patrick pulled his staff up, roots and all, and took it with him. Or, if he left it there to grow and ultimately become what is known as the Ash of Patrick (Aspatria).
It would appear that the latter is true, although after 1,500 plus years that would be one old ash. Then again, we know that our Sequoias (red woods) out in California are in the 2,000 year-old category, so I will leave it to those of you who have visited Aspatria to tell us if Patrick’s ash still grows. E-mail me if you know, at: oldashtreesneverdie.pat. I’ll buy the first responder a Murphy’s Irish Red or a Kilkenny’s if we bump into one another on the 17th. You’ll have to pay for your own corn beef and cabbage though.
As for that long-winded preacher I mentioned, when the parishioners built a brand new edifice, the architectural committee added a couple of twenty-first century surprises, beknownst neither to the good reverend nor the congregation. On opening Sunday, when the parishioners entered the sanctuary for the first time, they were astonished to see only a single row of seats down front.
Subsequent rows arose magically from the floor only as each preceding row was completely filled with the morning’s sinners, thus getting those pesky front-row benches finally occupied. Hallelujah! The good reverend was in ecstasy, smiling and chuckling, as each row arose hydraulically when the one before it filled. Unlike Saint Patrick, he did not have a staff to stick in the floor, but he did wax eloquent in his praise of the committee for their inventiveness.
Surely, he told them, you have conquered the age-old problem that has forever frustrated us ‘men of the cloth’ whose front-row seats are only filled on Easter and sometimes Christmas. However, his attitude, and the look on his face, dramatically changed when 15-minutes into his sermon, the pulpit (and he) descended hydraulically into the floor to the laughter and applause of the congregation.
What Saint Patrick might have said about all of that will of course never be known, but when I’m at O’Rourke’s Pub & Grill on the 17th (and perhaps 18th), I’ll ask around.