|By Isaac Cruikshank, 'Saint Patrick's Day in the Morning'.|
'It is a reality that various missionaries attempted to bring Christendom to the Island of Ireland, most noted would be the tradition that outlines the work of Palladius. However it is the tales of Patrick; that descendant of Gaul & Saxon marriage who found himself planted in Ireland when he was kidnapped by Irish marauders from his home in Britain.
For 6-7 years he was a shepherd which by legend and cult was on Slemish Mountain in County Antrim before making good an escape to Gaul where he trained to be a Christian Priest at Auxerre (in modern day Burgundy). Patrick states he had prophetic dreams of the Irish people calling him back and so around 460 he returned to Ireland to commence missionary work especially in the North-East region of the Island where he founded the first wholly Christian Church at Saul (near Downpatrick in County Down).
His method to win over the Celtic-Pagan traditions of I the time was not to demonise them or lambast years of that tradition but to incorporate those long standing festivals or traditions into Christianity. Most notable was Easter, taken from the pagan Goddess name Eostre usually celebrated in Ireland as the Spring holiday of Ostara. Patrick began lighting his own bonfires (with the then Kings and Chieftains initially to their chagrin) thus respecting Pagan tradition but preaching Christianity at the events thus winning converts.
Myth has it that he used the Shamrock, those very young sprigs of clover, to demonstrate the 3 stranded relationship of Father-Son-Holy Spirit as the God Head which was a teaching of Christianity created in the 3rd century.
Myth also has it he drove the snakes out of Ireland though my geological mind this day knows snakes never made it here after the last ice age and so I prefer to think that the snake which is a symbol of celt-paganism, is what created this myth i.e. Patrick brought the new world order of Christendom and thus ended paganism in Ireland.
Patrick died in Ireland and is reportedly buried on the Hill of Downpatrick in County Down.
What is undeniable is that the legacy accredited to his name was the creation of Churches & Monasteries which despite many quarrels and disagreements with Celtic Kings or Chieftains (and later Anglo-Saxon invasion) persevered to become the many parishes throughout this Island (Catholic & Reformed faith) which exist to this day.
Fast forward from 4th Century Missionary work to me as a young lad, inheriting Unionism and growing up on the peace-line of West Belfast during the conflict. Yes I was aware from Sunday School about the snakes and the shamrock but Saint Patrick wasn’t really “one of us” he was presented as “one of them-uns cause they didn’t reform”.
Yes, the fable of beloved Saint Patrick, outlined in my opening 7 paragraphs was alien to me. You can thus imagine my ‘outrage’ when on the 17th March as a young recruit in Her Majesty’s Field Army I was awoken by my Platoon Commander (at that time a chap from 2 PARA who was a Veteran of Northern Ireland & the Falklands campaign) to “Gunfire” which is a noxious brew of strong tea laced with (huge amounts) of Jamesons or Black Bush whiskey and going “sláinte mhaith, Happy Saint Patricks Day”.
Not only that but he went on chatting about how he loved Ireland and waffling weird words: Paleolithich hunters, invading Scandanavians, Celts from Europe, Romans, Picts, Saxons, Gauls, Anglo Saxons, Scots Planters, United Irishmen.
Not wishing my Platoon Commander to ‘be taking me up the Lagan in a bubble’ I opted to do my own investigations which found me down in the Public library of Folkestone for a few weeks and to my then horror: it was all true.
Not only was Patrick my Saint but Ireland wasn’t just made up of ‘them-uns’ trying to kill ‘us-uns’. Ireland was an island made of a rich, diverse ancestral ethnicity and Saint Patrick was one of, if not the, unifying character of all its diverse people.
I also discovered that my Platoon Commander was entitled to gesture visited upon me on the 17th March because following courageous action by Irish Infantry at the Battle of Spionkop (during the Boar War) Her Majesty Queen Victoria had declared Irish Regiments could have the day off for festivities “in honour of their Patron Saint.’
(Queen Victoria also instructed that an Irish Regiment of Foot Guards should be raised thus creating what we know today as the Irish Guards).
All Irish regiments (pre and post partition) or Irish personnel under the Colours of the British Army celebrate the Patron Saints day with reveille by ‘Gunfire’ followed by formal receipt of the Shamrock then a day of festivities “drowning the shamrock”.
Therefore, this year 2015, let us end the charade that our Patron Saint Patrick is “ours not theirs” or “sure he is one of them”. Let us unify in respect to our rich diversity and acknowledge that our Patron Saint belongs to us all; Catholic, Protestant, Dissenter, Republican, Unionist, Nationalist, White, Black, Asian - it doesn’t matter. His mission was to interweave old traditions & cultures with new ones generating a new way forward.
Finally, to the Northern Ireland Assembly, I say, let’s afford our saint’s day - the 17th March a fitting acknowledgement. Let’s join our neighbours in the South of Ireland, Argentina, Canada, USA, Switzerland, South Korea, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, parts of Britain, the British Army and the Irish Defence Forces in officially recognising our Patron Saint and also granting workers a deserved statutory holiday.'