St Patrick’s Day March 17th
Why are so many people, the world over, fascinated by the celebrations of March 17th? Why is the memory of St Patrick feted with such rollicking festivities, and those of St Andrew (Scotland), St David (Wales) and St George (England) seem to pass by with scant recognition? Of course, the celebrations of March 17th really have little to do with the memory of St Patrick, and everything to do with the celebration of Irish nationality, ancestry, food and drink, tourism, music, poetry……. and much, much more. And when you see images of festivities across the world, promoted by anyone who can trace their ancestry back to Ireland, you begin to realise the huge impact of Irish emigration over the centuries, especially around the time of the potato famine in the 19th century.
In my own family, we discovered via the 1841 census that my father’s ancestors were a part of the great exodus from Ireland in the 1840s. Iron ore miners in Country Wicklow, they managed to cross the Irish sea, and landed on the coast of Cumberland, only to make their way over to Ulverston where new iron ore mines were being established. Through the local parish priest, they would have found some poor lodgings within the parish until their financial circumstances improved. Doubtlessly, they would have been illiterate and spoke only Irish Gaelic, and their original name of Byrne would have been changed to the local spelling of “Burns” by the local registrars of births, deaths and marriages. Having believed for many years that I could only account for maternal Irish connections (my mother was first generation Irish), I now find myself adjusting to the reality of being almost totally Irish in my ancestry.
Which, of course, gives me every reason for celebrating the Emerald Isle on March 17th! With Irish stew, Irish cheeses and soda bread, followed by Irish cheesecakes (which have no cheese, by the way!) and Baileys ice-cream, all accompanied by lashings of Guinness and Baileys, poetry, songs, readings and (very) bad Kerryman jokes, we welcomed a few friends to raise a glass or three to Ireland and St Patrick. Having enjoyed the punchy verses of “Wild Rover”, “Black Velvet Band” and “Galway Bay”, the evening faded gently to the tones of “Cockles and Mussels” and “Danny Boy”………….. enough to bring a tear even to a non-Irish eye!