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Patrick's Wife and other Irish links

It’s a nice relaxed St. Patrick’s Day I’m having today. It’s been pissing down most of the day, but we’ve had friends over just hanging out (those who live near the city centre wanted to be away from the insanity). I’m sitting here not watching the women’s rugby match on TV with a friend who is watching (Ireland v. England), while other friends are drawing up character sheets for an RPG. So, I figured I’d share a few Patrick’s Day related links and a classic Irish poem translated into English by Seamus Heaney.

Illustration for article titled Patricks Wife and other Irish links

The day after St. Patrick’s day was traditionally know as Sheelah’s day. It hasn’t been celebrated for a while in modern Ireland, but the tradition was carried on in Newfoundland and Labrador. In your traditional syncretistic manner, it could be celebrating St. Patrick’s wife, and also the ancient fertility goddess who still protects many old churches as the Sheela Na Gig.

“Pre Famine, pre 1845, if you go back to the newspapers in Ireland they talk not just about Patrick’s Day but also Sheelah’s Day. So I wondered where this came from? You have Paddy’s day on the 17th and it continues on to Sheelah’s day. I came across numerous references that Sheelah was thought to be Patrick’s wife. She was his other half. The folk tradition has no problem with such detail. The fact that we have Patrick and Sheelah together should be no surprise. Because that duality, that union of the male and female together, is one of the strongest images that we have in our mythology.”





Illustration for article titled Patricks Wife and other Irish links

You’ll see the politicians today (and other people as well) wearing the shamrock. This is a relatively new tradition dating from around the 17oos, eventually replacing the older tradition of wearing St. Patrick’s Cross. While the Shamrock is associated with St. Patrick from legends that he used its three leaves to illustrate the three-in-one nature of the Trinity, he never mentioned it in his writings. Also, it’s unlikely this was all that necessary since ancient Celtic beliefs were big on threes. Including possibly a triple deity in Brigid, as she’s listed in Cormac’s glossary as having two sisters also named Brigid.

The triple spirals on the entry stone at Newgrange
The triple spirals on the entry stone at Newgrange

The wearing of the shamrock is probably more associated with “The wearing of the green”. The shamrock was a common motif for the Volunteers in the 18th century, but by the time of memorializing the failed 1798 United Irishmen rebellion, it was getting associated with their green uniforms, ribbons, etc. The song “The Wearing of the Green” links the outlawing of Irish Nationalism with the impossibility of outlawing growing shamrocks (which naturally grew wild all over the hills). Wearing green and wearing the shamrock then became associated with the Ribbonmen, agrarian Catholic secret societies in 19th century.

By the way, St. Patrick’s color is blue, not green. (Blue is also the national state colour.)


Some more facts from the National Heritage Service:


And a bit of poetry about a monk and his cat:

Pangur Bán


From the ninth-century Irish poem

Pangur Bán and I at work,

Adepts, equals, cat and clerk:

His whole instinct is to hunt,

Mine to free the meaning pent.

More than loud acclaim, I love

Books, silence, thought, my alcove.

Happy for me, Pangur Bán

Child-plays round some mouse’s den.

Truth to tell, just being here,

Housed alone, housed together,

Adds up to its own reward:

Concentration, stealthy art.

Next thing an unwary mouse

Bares his flank: Pangur pounces.

Next thing lines that held and held

Meaning back begin to yield.

All the while, his round bright eye

Fixes on the wall, while I

Focus my less piercing gaze

On the challenge of the page.

With his unsheathed, perfect nails

Pangur springs, exults and kills.

When the longed-for, difficult

Answers come, I too exult.

So it goes. To each his own.

No vying. No vexation.

Taking pleasure, taking pains,

Kindred spirits, veterans.

Day and night, soft purr, soft pad,

Pangur Bán has learned his trade.

Day and night, my own hard work

Solves the cruxes, makes a mark.

Source: Poetry (April 2006)

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