Friday, March 18, 2011

Behind the Mystery of St. Patrick

Thanks, everyone, for the St. Patrick’s Day birthday wishes!!!  It’s really nice to know that so many people care enough to remember my birthday, but it could also just seem that way because Facebook reminds everyone!

Anyways, being born on St. Patrick’s Day, I felt it would be interesting to take a fresh look at the legend surrounding St. Patrick himself.  Much in the same way that some historians see L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a parable of populist propaganda, I think that perhaps the mystique of St. Patrick hides some brutal political truth.

First, a few details of the life of St. Patrick, which come from two surviving letters of his, and are generally accepted as true – Patrick was born in Roman Britain, and around the age of 16, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland.  He lived in Ireland for six years before escaping back to his family, entered the Catholic Church, and returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop in the north and west areas of the island.  Supposedly he died on March 17, which is why St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on that date.  He lived from the late fourth century to the latter half of the fifth century, and by the seventh century he was revered as the patron saint of Ireland.

One of the things for which St. Patrick is famous is spreading Christianity throughout Ireland.  As you can see from this stained glass window, the feat was actually very easy for him - it seems that St. Patrick was a giant (and a direct ancestor of the Jolly Green Giant – why do you think he’s green?  It’s the Irish!!!), and so he could just carry pre-assembled churches in his arm like a football and set them down throughout Ireland.  Very convenient!!

One of the enduring legends of St. Patrick is his banishment of snakes from the island of Ireland.  As a student at an engineering school (St. Patrick is supposedly the patron saint of engineers), I had to craft a shillelagh and bludgeon rubber snakes until they were “dead” in honor of St. Patrick’s famous feat.  But is it historically accurate?  Did St. Patrick and his flock really get rid of all the snakes in Ireland with wooden clubs?  Alas, no.  Apparently all that time I spent making my shillelagh and biting the heads off of dead rubber snakes was a waste.  Ireland has been devoid of snakes since the glaciers last receded, so it would seem that the attribution of this “feat” to St. Patrick is symbolic – but what could it represent?

Historical re-analysis #1 – St. Patrick was a conservative politician, and the snakes represent illegal (or “undocumented”) immigrants.  In this scenario, the Irish people got tired of all the snakes laying “anchor eggs,” taking all the welfare, and clogging up the emergency rooms, and the Irish setters got tired of all the snakes taking all the setting jobs at lower wages.  And so, St. Patrick, with his xenophobic redneck tendencies, successfully rid the island of all the snakes, none of which had the courtesy to come to the country the right way anyway.  Of course, this was met with great acclaim at the time, but soon the Irish were cursed with a lack of diversity.  Their food would consist of only potatoes and cabbage, and they would be forced to turn to whiskey to cope.  This reliance on potatoes would doubly curse the Irish, for in addition to blandness, the potato famine would eventually ravage the country.  This, in turn, would lead to a mass exodus from Ireland, causing the movie Far and Away to be made, in which Nicole Kidman would flee to America and Tom Cruise would pretend to like girls.  Do you see where closed-mindedness leads us???

Historical re-analysis #2 – St. Patrick was a liberal politician, the snakes represent the greedy rich, and the shillelaghs represent social justice (higher taxes).  In this scenario, for too long, the rich snakes had been taking advantage of all the services the Irish government had been providing without bothering to pay their fair share.  You see, every year around tax time, the snakes gave up the skin off their backs, but it was not enough.  St. Patrick (and his followers) knew the snakes could give more!!!  The greedy snakes tried to fight back with their highly paid lobbyist shillelaghs, but in the end, social justice was triumphant.  However, the snakes that weren’t whacked by shillelaghs were chased off the island, and the Irish were forced into a period of deficit spending washed down with copious amounts of Irish whiskey.  At some point, severe austerity measures would have to take place, but with enough whiskey, will it even be noticed???

Historical re-analysis #3 – St. Patrick was a Japanese nuclear reactor, and the snakes are terrified citizens.  The shillelaghs, of course, are a combination of radioactive steam, misinformation, and media sensation.  St. Patrick and radioactive steam?  Where do you think the Jolly Green Giant came from??? 

Thanks again, everyone, and I hope you all had a great St. Patrick’s Day!!!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I figured you'd go into a story about why you wear green on St. Patty's day and how no one wears the orange because St. Patrick's day was pitched to be a national holiday by the "papist" Irish who wanted acceptance as mainstream Americans. Much like Polaski day in Illinois was a tool for Polish Illinois-ites to have a Polish American hero, thereby making their history the history of America.

    Historiography is fun!

  3. Hey, interesting read, aha thanks ;D

  4. I never actually knew anything about St Patrick til this blog. Yet I always celebrate his "day" lol