Be honest now. How many of you really know what “Erin Go Bragh” means?Less is known about Saint Patrick’s Day than any other holiday in the year. All we Americans know about Saint Patrick is that he chased the snakes out of Ireland. Other than that, the holiday is pretty much about wearing plastic green shamrocks, singing out of key and getting drunk on green beer.We don’t even know the words to the songs we’re singing when we’re drinking the beer.There are more Irish songs than there are Christmas carols, but everyone knows only two – “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” And no one knows more than five or six words of either of them.And what about Saint Patrick himself?A Few Saint Pat Stats: Born in Britain (!!!) to wealthy parents. At 16 he was taken to Ireland as a prisoner, escaped after six years and went back to Britain. He returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary, where he incorporated ancient Celtic symbolism into Christian rites, but did NOT chase the snakes out of Ireland. Died March 17, 460 AD.
So Saint Patrick wasn’t even Irish, which probably accounts for the reason why most people who celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day aren’t Irish either.At least half of my mother’s parentage was Irish – her grandparents came from County Cork. But like most of us with Irish ancestry, when I tried to look up birth records, I found that the county courthouse over there had burned down about 100 years ago. It seems that a lot of Irish ancestry records disappeared that way.If you’re staying home – other than watching “Celtic Woman” or reading “Angela’s Ashes,” the best way to spend Saint Patrick’s Day is to put on a recording of the late, lovely Irish tenor Frank Patterson and start surfing the internet for Saint Patrick’s Day Fun Facts. To get you started, here are a few that I found:1) At least 34 million Americans claim Irish ancestry.2) The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York in 1762, by Irish soldiers serving in the British army.3) According to the 2000 census, 12.2 percent of Coloradans are Irish Americans.4) No one seems to know where green beer came from, but it definitely didn’t originate in Ireland. If you put green food coloring in real Irish ale, it only turns it a darker brown.
And finally, believe it or not, up until the 1970s it was illegal for pubs in Ireland to stay open on Saint Patrick’s Day, because it was a religious holiday. And Ireland didn’t really start celebrating the day with parades and festivities until 1995, when the board of tourism thought a few local parades might be a good way to bring American tourists into town. They were right – the parade in Dublin now attracts over a million people. Here are the best Bad Irish Toasts from the internet:1) “How lucky can we be if we’re Irish!”2) “There’s a wake goin’ on somewhere!”3) “Gaelic keeps the vampires away!”4) “Erin Go Bra-less!” I apologize for that last one. I couldn’t resist.
There’s something about the image of Ireland that to us Americans is fantastical – a green, hilly, densely-wooded enchanted forest, filled with harps and flutes and dancing fairies and leprechauns. The Irish are proud of maintaining this image, which imaginatively belies the centuries of poverty and war, domination and prejudice they’ve had to endure. The Irish are nothing if not gallant.And besides, only Ireland could come up with this one – a live Leprechaun webcam.That’s right. Go to http://www.irelandseye.com and click on “Irish Fairies” – it will direct you to the Leprechaun Watch.According to the website, the Leprechaun Watch webcam is hidden in the trunk of a 600-year-old oak tree in the middle of a field overlooking a fairy ring in Tipperary. The camera is concealed in a cavity in the trunk of the tree (which is protected by an Irish Tree Fairy), and there’s even an antenna in its branches. Next to the Loch Ness Monster Cam, this has become my favorite webcam. You can sit and stare at it for hours – which apparently some people do. If you see a leprechaun, there’s a link where you can report it, and read what other people have sent in. I think it’s the perfect way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. You can meet new internet friends who will be only too happy to share their Leprechaun Watch sightings with you. And after a few pints of green beer, you’ll most certainly have a few sightings to share with them as well.Oh, and by the way, in case you didn’t know – “Erin Go Bragh” means “Ireland Forever.”
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