Ah yes, spring is in the air. The air is clean and crisp in this early part of March, the grass is beginning to shed the brown coat of winter and don its emerald-green of the dawning spring. I can tell, personally, that spring is in the air because my allergies have gone berserk the last few days. Spring calls to mind the warmth of the sun after the long nights of winter and life beginning anew. And one of most people’s favorite part about spring, particularly March, is St. Patrick’s day.
a quick history lesson…
Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig, “the Day of the Festival of Patrick“), is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick , the foremost patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, cèilidhs, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks.
Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.
Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. Modern celebrations have been greatly influenced by those of the Irish diaspora, particularly those that developed in North America. In recent years, there has been criticism of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations for having become too commercialised and for fostering negative stereotypes of the Irish people.
And no…St. Patrick didn’t drive the snakes from Ireland, it is an allegorical story that represents his driving the old pagan religions (the serpents) out and bringing Christianity to Ireland…just in case you were wondering.
I recall one particular March in Harpers Ferry when spring was in full bloom the Hilltop House Hotel played host to a Celtic harp & Dance Festival. (I do not recall the name of the group, perhaps one my readers remembers or has photos from the event?) It was a lively affair and I was fairly excited for it. Although I descend from primarily Nordic, Viking stock, I do have several shoots of my family tree rooted in the emerald isle.
I have always felt deeply connected to it. Ask anyone who knows me, they can tell you I have an odd penchant for all thing gaelic. Especially the music.
Bands like Flogging Molly, The Pogues, Dropkick Murphys, The Dubliners and so many others populate Spotify and Pandora and all other music services I use. So a Celtic Harp Festival was, as they say, right up my alley.
I remember arriving to work that particular Sunday morning. It was indeed St. Patrick’s Day, I had on an especially green tie ( I mean this strip of silk cloth was REALLY REALLY green) and the air was clean and fresh from the rain the prior day that had washed the dust of winter from the world. I was in a grand mood walking up the cracked concrete sidewalk. I could already hear the strains of one Irish folk song or another floating over the hillside like a soft breeze. The melody was haunting but light, if I heard it again I would know it instantly. It was played “in the round” by four…harpists?…and the music infected me. It was, for lack of a better word, beautiful. Simply beautiful. Notes tumbled over notes in an Irish ballet of music that spilled into the springtime morning. Several harpist were accompanied by a violinist (fiddle I think is more appropriate in Irish music) and several drummers playing large tambourine looking things. The rhythm of these things evoked something primal in me. I could envision my ancestors around the fire, the slow steady rhythm punctuating the tale told by a village elder. But these elements combined to inspire me to attempt a little dance as I walked up the two-step to the grand front porch. Unknown to me, the musicians saw this…and cheered.
I didn’t know they saw me. I assumed they were lost in the music. Apparently I was the only one lost in the Irish Reverie they had created that morning. The ladies gathered around the varied musicians all applauded and I took a mortified and embarrassed little bow as I went to go inside.
“Oh no ye don’t!” one of the girls dressed in traditional Irish garb said and grabbed me by my arm. “Ye cannae start a dance and nae finish her. Come and we’ll teach ya a lively step.” She said with a flashing bright smile. I can resist a lot of things in this world. A strong drink, a strong hand in a poker game, all manner of temptations slip past me unnoticed. An Irish accent is kryptonite. (I say this with a chuckle and a smile) The other girls in the dancing troop all giggled and lined up 4 on each side of me.
Now, obviously, none of my readers have met me in person. But I am not small, nimble, lithe, athletic, coordinated or graceful. I am 6’7″ tall, every bit of a healthy 255lbs, built like an animal but with the heart and tendencies of an artist. SO…I knew this was not going to be a good idea.
Yet here I was, lined up with Irish girls of all ages. They showed me a few quick steps, nothing fancy or intricate, just a shuffle step, kick step and a few other things. Now please keep in mind, My mother’s office at the Hilltop house faced onto the front porch where this scene was taking place. And my mother, obviously knew I had absolutely zero ability for what I was about to attempt. AND my Mother, knowing this, quickly gathered what staff were unoccupied to come and watch the West Virginia bull dance with the small Irish rabbits, for this was surely to be a show.
The music began, slowly at first, the girls (bless their little hearts) went slowly to let me keep up with them. I could hear the giggling and laughter coming from my mom’s office behind me. I could hear the light applause from the door that led from the front porch to the grand dining room from the restaurant staff who were watching. I was doing pretty well I thought. I was keeping up with these much more talented girls. I missed a step or two here and there but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t recover from. “Ok, Sir…are ye ready? We’ll be doing those wee kick steps.” She said, that brilliant smile never once fading from her face.
“Oh sure.” I said, feeling a bit bold and brash. ” I think I got this.”
I did not…
The first kick step went well…but I am MUCH larger than the small girls I was dancing with. None of us took into account the reach of my legs. The second kick step landed squarely in the back of a drummer. Who toppled forward into the violin player, who stumbled stepped into her partner, who then proceeded to spin and topple onto the harp, the harp was saved from destruction by another drummer when it dropped onto his shoulder knocking him into another harp player who fell backwards into the left flank of the dancers which began a crazy chaotic whirl of colors as we ALL crashed onto the concrete with a cacophony of sound. The only thing louder than the crash caused by, I remind you, a single kick, was the sound of laughter from everyone gathered to watch.
So from me to you, on this St Patrick’s Day…
is féidir áthas agus síocháin a bheith timpeall ort, déan do doras a chraoladh, agus go mbeidh an sonas leat anois agus go deo níos mó