Thursday, March 17, 2011

HAPPY ST.PATRICK'S DAY!

Before you can "wear the green,'" you must first "find the green"—and that's often rather problematic hereabouts this time of year. I may not be able to locate a shamrock today, but no matter the season, if I want to see some lush Irish green, all I have to do is visit this watercress-lined spring just up the road

Long before "going green" became a marketing mantra, we Irish folk have been participating in the "wearin’ of the green” every March 17th. But like a lot of things which once held a deeper meaning, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has lately gotten rather silly. I’d like to think it’s the wannabe Irish who’ve messed this up. Surely no true son or daughter of Erin—even those several generations removed—would disgrace the Emerald Isle by eating green spaghetti or swilling beer the color of bile. 

However, for me the final insult occurred the other day when I saw a merchandise display of St. Paddy's Day buttons, banners, and green plastic derby hats—all sporting four-leafed shamrocks! 

Enough is enough! No wonder banshees wail! 

The shamrock is the national emblem of Ireland. It is a trifoliate plant, which means it has three leaves—not four, as some botanically illiterate hack artists apparently envision. As a symbol the shamrock is revered because of a British bishop named Patrick, who came to Ireland early in the Fourth Century. When it comes to action-packed slam-bang exploits, St. Patrick would give today’s superheroes a run for their money. 

The adventurous St. Patrick is credited with, among other things, converting the Irish to Christianity—in the process overcoming the influence of the Druids and driving all snakes into the sea. Because it had three leaves, St. Patrick used the shamrock during his teachings to illustrate the Doctrine of the Trinity. 

The shamrock gets its name from the Irish word “seamrog” or trefoil, which again translates into “three-leaved plant.” Though there is some question as to the original true shamrock, most candidates mentioned are either clovers or cloverlike plants. The vote is about equally divided among woodsorrel, common white clover, black medic, and a trailing hopclover. All these plants, as well as the occasionally considered red clover, are similar in appearance. 

When I was a kid, I remember stores in my neighborhood often sold little packets of imported shamrocks just prior to St. Patricks’s Day. No offspring of an Irishman would dare go to school or work on the blessed day lacking this traditional adornment. I could have easily picked a sprig of sorrel from my mother’s flower bed. Her plantings grew along the south side of the house, against the warm, protected lee of the foundation. There was almost always a clump of sorrel available—and I’d have been reasonably authentic in my selection. Instead, I took a few coins—earned by collecting pop bottles from roadside ditches and cashing them in at two cents apiece—down to the local variety store and shelled out for the genuine article, whatever it was. This shamrock was proudly affixed to my coat or sweater, and I could feel my kinship stretching back through misty time to a land I’d never seen but loved dearly nonetheless. 

Alas, I haven’t seen imported shamrocks offered for sale in years. Today, if I can't find a handy patch of sorrel, I may indeed have to resort to some lifeless imitation shamrock. In this techno-homogenized era, the genuine symbolic gesture is becoming harder to accomplish with each passing decade. 

So, just for today, we Irish will allow the rest of you to pretend your veins contain a wee drop of Celtic blood. You can don your funny green hats, drink your green beer, even surprise your mate with a pair of dancing-leprechaun undershorts. But I beg you to draw the line somewhere this side of botanical authenticity…please don’t go wearing any four-leaf shamrocks.
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20 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Happy St Patrick's Day to you Grizz.

When I was a child we used to have a celebratory English Day too - called Royal Oak Day, when we all wore a sprig of oak - that seems to have completely died out.

As for green hats etc., trust those selling rubbish to jump on the band wagon.

I would rather go for your watercress, which looks extremely clean and healthy and very eatable.

Lorac said...

May your thoughts be as glad as the shamrocks, may your heart be as light as a song, may each day bring you bright, happy hours that stay with you all the year long. Happy St. Patrick's!

George said...

Ah, this posting stirs my Celtic blood, Grizz. The first thing that I did after retiring was to spend several years investigating my Gaelic roots in what is now called "Northern Ireland," but which to me shall always be the north of Ireland. You may recall that my Zen master's name is Derry, which pays homage to County Derry (you will never hear the word "Londonderry" uttered by me). I have been to Ireland many times, especially during the period of my research, and I would heartily recommend it to you. Ireland is a constant reminder that I am part of something much greater than the immediate family into which I was born. I don't need four-leaf clovers, or for that matter, even those with three leafs, to remind me of that. And what a contribution St. Patrick and his followers made. Have you read Thomas Cahill's book, "How the Irish Saved Civilization"? Happy St. Patrick's Day, Brother.

The Solitary Walker said...

I did actually find a freak four-leaf clover once, but I can't remember it bringing me any special luck.

Here's raising a pint of Guinness to you, Grizz!

Vagabonde said...

You know I had never heard of St Patrick’s Day while growing up in France. I was surprised how popular it was here. For a while I was Irish too – in name that is since my first husband was Irish and his name was even Patrick. I think in Savannah they go crazy and have wild parties. They color the water in the fountains green. I think it is because people like to have a reason for a party. Anyway happy St Patrick’s Day.

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

I hate to see all the old festivals and celebrations fall by the wayside after being kept, sometimes, for centuries. And I equally hate to watch their solemnity be degraded by commercialism.

History and tradition—those small honors which mark the distinctions of who we are and where we came from—doesn't seem to mean much anymore.

That watercress is, indeed, quite tasty.

Bernie said...

Happy St. Patrick's Day my friend. Your post brought a smile to my face, loved it.
The book George recommended, How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill was a good book, I really enjoyed it. It is filled with so much history......:-)Hugs

Grizz………… said...

Lorac…

What a lovely Irish blessing—and not one I remember hearing before. Thank you! I hope you had a good St. Paddy's Day, too. Whatever your heritage…today you were Irish.

Grizz………… said...

George…

I've been clambering around the family tree for some years. Almost all my ancestors on both sides were Irish—as were so many of the earliest Appalachian settlers. My paternal line also came from North Ireland, the county of Fermanagh in the province of Ulster.

I don't know if I'll ever get to see that ancient homeland—though it has long been at the top of my list. But there's always been that connection, a mysterious calling that I've felt all my life. I know it sounds strange, but it's the truth…there's a singing in the blood that hums like an old fiddle lamentation.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, my friend and kinsman—and yes, I have read Cahill's fine book.

Grizz………… said...

Solitary…

I used to look for four-leaf clovers—and found a few. The experts and historians can't agree on the identity of the true shamrock. There have been several books and numerous articles written about this botanical mystery over the years. I have a number of them in my library. And the truth is, we'll never know—not for certain. Which is fine as it allows me to pin on a sprig of wood sorrel every March 17th and know that no one can dispute my choice.

Now, I believe it's time for another pint.

Grizz………… said...

Vagabonde…

I believe the first St. Patrick's Day event in North America was held in the late-1730s, in Boston. New York began having a parade in 1762. The party has been getting bigger every year since. And though it originally began as a religious-based holiday, it has since become a celebration of Irish culture.

I've seen plenty of green fountains on St. Paddy's Day, green spaghetti, green beer, green mashed potatoes, and bright green hair on both men and women. If it can be dyed green, it probably has been.

Sorry you're no longer assimilated_Irish year around—but at least you get to return to the fold annually. :-)

Grizz………… said...

Bernie…

Hope you had a great St. Patrick's Day. It was almost 70 degrees here, and sunshine! Couldn't have asked for nicer weather.

Beyond My Garden said...

go green

Grizz………… said...

Beyond My Garden...

You bet! The whole world looks good when it's wearing green.

Anonymous said...

If we are talking botanical authenticity-the sorrel-Common sorrel has long slender leaves-you mean the Oxalis/woodsorrel with clover leaves-the first makes a delicious soup the second a tender sour snack.

KGMom said...

Nothing like St. Paddy's day to roust the Irish in us all. Even those of us who can't claim a bit.
When we visited Ireland a decade ago, I fit right in--what with blue eyes and red hair. But, my genes are mostly German!

Gail said...

Happy St Patrick's Day to you Grizz. Great lessons to be learned here. thanks. :-)
Love Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Anonymous…

You're correct…while I did say woodsorrel in my first mention within the post, I just said "sorrel" later on. I should have been more precise. But I did call it woodsorrel in my comment reply to Solitary Walker above.

The plant along the foundation wall at my parents home was indeed woodsorrel, and I have several patches growing around the yard here. At both locations, the woodsorrels in question were Oxalis—stricta and grandis. We also have O. corniculata, O. dillenii, O. violacea, and O. montana hereabouts.

I've always known the soup-making sorrel, Rumex acetosa, which is unrelated to woodsorrels, as narrow-leaf dock.

BTW, I've been a woodsorrel nibbler all my life, and that's probably why Mom allowed it to flourish, though she might also have liked the yellow flowers. I put it in salads, too, and have steeped it into tea. The sour taste comes from oxalic acid. Some folks get a bit hinky when they learn this, as eating enough oxalic acid can prove poisonous. Spinach, rhubarb, and lots of other foods also contain oxalic acid. And the fact of the matter is that you'd have to consume perhaps 30–40 pounds of woodsorrel to even approach such a dire state—near impossible because you'd probably get sick from the sheer volume well before reaching that point. By comparison, drinking half that weight of water would be fatal. Still, you sometimes see warnings to be careful.

Grizz………… said...

KGMom…

Green eyes would have scored you a lot more "Is she or ain't she Irish?" points…but since you could talk cabbage and potato dishes, they probably overlooked everything else.

I took Myladylove to an Irish Heritage festival a while back. This is a big, several-day event drawing thousands of folks, with all kinds of food and crafts, dancing, bands, etc. She took one look around and said—"Dear God! They all look like you! I've never seen so much red hair and so many ruddy complexions in my life! And what's even worse, everybody is laughing and gesturing and acting crazy just like you always do!"

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Hey, Happy (Belated) St. Paddy's Day to you! Hope you and Skipp sang a few Irish songs yesterday.

Take care, be good (more or less), and enjoy spring's unfolding!