Monday, March 17, 2008

Some wee facts

Courtesy of National Geographic. Except for the comments in italics. Which are, obviously, mine.
  • St. Patrick's Day marks the Roman Catholic feast day for Ireland's patron saint, who died in the 5th century. St. Patrick (Patricius in Latin) was not born in Ireland, but in Britain.

    Irish brigands kidnapped St. Patrick at 16 and brought him to Ireland. He was sold as a slave in the county of Antrim and served in bondage for six years until he escaped to Gaul, in present-day France. He later returned to his parents' home in Britain, where he had a vision that he would preach to the Irish. After 14 years of study, Patrick returned to Ireland, where he built churches and spread the Christian faith for some 30 years. Some day I'd like to be known as a Irish brigand.

  • Many myths surround St. Patrick. One of the best known—and most inaccurate—is that Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland into the Irish Sea, where the serpents drowned. (Some still say that is why the sea is so rough.) But snakes have never been native to the Emerald Isle. The serpents were likely a metaphor for druidic religions, which steadily disappeared from Ireland in the centuries after St. Patrick planted the seeds of Christianity on the island. Even though the whole snake thing is a myth, it doesn't stop drunken frat boys at University of Missouri-Rolla (or whatever the hell it's called now) from buying hundreds of rubber snakes each year for St. Patrick's Day, throwing them on the campus ground and yelling at freshmen pledges to "kill the snakes, freshman!" with their shillelaghs. While unfair and brutal for the freshmen, it's downright funny for the rest of us to watch.

  • In the United States, it's customary to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. But in Ireland the color was long considered to be unlucky, says Bridget Haggerty, author of The Traditional Irish Wedding and the Irish Culture and Customs Web site. As Haggerty explains, Irish folklore holds that green is the favorite color of the Good People (the proper name for faeries). They are likely to steal people, especially children, who wear too much of the color. Which is exactly why I dressed Zozo in purple today. She's got a bit o' the green, mind you, with her plastic shamrock beads and her green sequin shamrock pin, but there ain't no faeries gonna steal my wee Bug.

  • By law, pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick's Day, a national religious holiday, as recently as the 1970s. Must be an American thing to take another nation's sacred religious holiday and get rip-roaring drunk on it. Next up: Cinco de Mayo! Before you know it we'll all be plowed for Chinese New Year.

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 34 million United States residents claim Irish ancestry, or nearly ten times the entire population of Ireland today, which stands at 3.9 million. Among U.S. ethnic groups, the number of Irish-Americans in the U.S. is second only to the number of German-Americans. Unlike most American mutts who claim Irish ancestry on this day, I can actually back it up. My grandmother's parents came over on the boat, making Grandma 100% Irish, Dad half Irish and me a quarter Irish. Which means O'Zozo is a whopping 1/8 Irish.

  • Since 1820, 4.8 million Irish have legally immigrated to the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The agency reports that only four countries—Germany, Italy, Mexico, and the United Kingdom—have sent more native-born residents to become naturalized U.S. citizens. Yup, my ancesters were 2 of those 4.8 million Irish. Dad and I visited the port of Cobh (pronounced "cove") when we went to Ireland, which is the port that 99% of them left from. It's humbling to stand in the place where you know your great grandparents stood, and wonder what they must have been feeling as they left the country of their birth. They probably could've used a Guinness.

  • Guinness stout, first brewed by Arthur Guinness in Dublin, Ireland, in 1759, has become synonymous with Ireland and Irish bars. According to the company's Web site, 1,883,200,000 (that's 1.9 billion) pints of Guinness are consumed around the world every year. M and I are, not suprising, responsible for some of this consumption. Mmmmm, Guinness.

  • Ireland is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) long and 200 miles (320 kilometers) wide. And it's great fun to drive through in a wee rented car. Just ask Dad. He had just gotten used to shifting with his right hand and whizzing through roundabouts when we had to come home. Think it's about time to go back, don't you, Dad?!

May those that love us, love us.
And those that don’t love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all you Irish folk, and to the rest of you pretending to be Irish today!


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