A Study in Green

Posted on March 11, 2016. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , |

In less than a week, a particular hue will pigment the popular visage, suffusing food, drink, apparel, skin and even large bodies of water. A certain trifoliate plant will be adorned by millions and adopted as the unofficial national symbol for a day.

The alcohol and spirits industries will celebrate as rowdily as the myriad merrymakers who will toast, cheer, and otherwise repeatedly raise glasses to a 5th century saint honored with parades, parties and festivities.

You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day (Patrick himself wasn’t); indeed, it’s one of the most unifying of holidays—we’re all Irish Americans in spirit on March 17.

With Irish blood flowing in some degree in 40 million U.S. citizens, it’s easy to understand our magnitude of memorialization surrounding Ireland’s patron saint. Celebrations are so widespread that there are ranking competitions in blogs, online media moguls and major news organizations.

Perennial favorites include mega-metro locales that measure their enduring tributes in centuries, like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, where the city’s namesake river runs green (the dye’s precise ingredients are as closely guarded as the Coca-Cola formula).

But other smaller communities also show up on national lists of best places to celebrate, ranging from historic Savannah, Ga., where the trumpeted spigots in storied Forsythe Park’s fountain spew green water, to tiny Erin, Tenn., which boasts a week-long roster of events and claims to be one of the largest celebrations south of Chicago.

AOL.com ranks the celebration in Hot Springs among the top 10 in America. Heralded this year as the First Ever 13th Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the parade route spans 98-foot Bridge Street, which was recognized in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the shortest active-use street in the world.

Because the holiday falls on a Thursday this year, most larger parades and celebrations will occur on the Saturday either preceding (March 12) or following (March 19) that date.

Before you join the sea of humanity that will sway to lilting Irish melodies, one sure way to catch the Erin Isle fever is to watch the silver-screen classic that preserves in timeless Technicolor Ireland’s alluring countryside—and the characters that dwell there.

The Quiet Man was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and won two, for cinematography and director. It’s a movie that well warranted its Academy attention, with powerhouse performances, sweeping scenery, fantastic dialogue to go with a fabulous storyline, and a truly insightful glimpse into Irish life and lore.

It gleefully displays all you know about Irish stereotypes, and introduces you to more you didn’t know. Watching John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara—both at their finest—and a supporting cast which also drew an Oscar nomination, is as easy and satisfying as a fireside tea on a chill March evening.

The digital age has put music of all sorts within a finger-click reach on phone or tablet, and Irish songs are no different.

Two particularly good albums, both full of tunes to set your eyes (Irish or not) to smiling, are Top of the Morning by Bing Crosby, and Ireland’s Greatest Hits featuring favorites by Leo McCaffrey, Dennis Day and others.

One ballad—”Irish Jaunting Car”—contains the lyric: “Old Ireland for scenery commands the poet’s pen …” and it’s true that one oft-overlooked aspect of Irish achievement is its disparate contribution to world literature.

Ireland has produced four Nobel laureates, including William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, both of whom lived long, prolific lives leaving a rich legacy of luminary works and witticisms. (The other Nobel winners were Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.)

That’s a sizable list for a small country. The U.S., nearly 80 times the size of Ireland, has claimed only 10 Nobel prizes in literature.

Both Yeats and Shaw are imminently readable and quotable, and represent a welcome departure from the typical St. Patrick’s Day traditions that tend to numb, rather than stimulate, the intellect.

Yeats was a towering literary figure, and transitioned through the years from poetical works influenced by his fascination with Irish legends to later-life writings of weightier matters of state, politics and social culture. Shaw was a renowned playwright (his Pygmalion lives on most famously as the musical My Fair Lady) and also an author of essays, commentaries, articles and books.

Here is some thought-provoking Irish fare to savor over the holiday from each; a few may be familiar.

From Yeats:

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire.”

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”

“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”

From Shaw:

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.”

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

As we roll towards St. Patrick’s, may the road rise to meet you.

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One Response to “A Study in Green”

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I appreciate the Irish Nobel laureates you noted, but you didn’t mention Swift. By the way, about a previous column, three Supreme Court justices had more children than did Scalia


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