Hibernophilia Day

Posted on March 17, 2017. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , , , , |

Today is the day for all good hibernophiles to celebrate the object of their affection. That is, the lore and life and culture of Hibernia.

If you’re pondering the link to St. Patrick’s Day, it is traced to antiquity. Hibernia was the name used by the Romans to refer to the island we now call Ireland.

And everyone’s a hibernophile, to some degree, on March 17.

The Chicago River runs green, and if you haven’t watched the time-lapse video of the dyeing, it’s worth a couple minutes of YouTube time.

St. Patrick’s Day parades across America boast amazing durations, some even preceding independence. New York’s first parade was 1766, Philadelphia’s in 1771 and Boston’s in 1794.

Unlike most metropolises, which host their observances on the nearest weekends, Savannah’s historic parade—sponsored by the Hibernian Society since 1824—is always held on the actual date. Despite its frequent workday scheduling, hibernophiles in Savannah turn out in numbers matching those in much larger cities.

But celebratory processions are a product of the holiday, not the cause of it.

It’s easy enough to forget the reverence of the day because of the revelry surrounding it. Especially so since the Irish penchants for festivity are so inculcating. The wearing of the green, the witticisms and proverbs and toasts, the gift of blarney, the legends of shillelaghs and leprechauns—they all seamlessly slide in alongside the shamrock and the patron saint.

The lilting blessings complement the sacred and comprehensive prayer of St. Patrick’s breastplate (which no true hibernophile can ignore). That’s the powerful protection prayer, penned in the fifth century, whose more familiar lines include “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me …” and a continuing litany of like construction invoking not only Christ, but also God and listing perils and temptations. Its words were set to music in the 1889 hymn “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” the title taken from the prayer’s opening line.

Collectively it all casts a broad vision of the enduring qualities hibernophiles hold dear: Irish love of life coupled with intense religiousness, sprinkled throughout with impish humor.

Part of the lure stems from Ireland’s ancient roots, which reach back millennia without the curbing effect of Roman conquest.

The early Brehon Law is a fascinating study in itself, and its shaping effect on the Irish society until it mixed and merged with adoption of English jurisprudence in the 17th century is notably relevant.

The native legal system invoked no state power, and was remarkably pragmatic and often ahead of its time on issues such as women’s rights. It emphasized restitution rather than punishment in criminal matters, and addressed with particularity many of society’s most basic details. For example, according to Brehon dictates, a doctor’s house was required to have four doors that opened out so patients could be seen from every side.

Its precepts and principles sought fairness and justice, and the Brehons—arbitrators and jurists, rather than legislators—often made decrees in forms of shrewd and sagacious statements.

Those centuries of early Irish law begat many of the popular proverbs surviving to this day. Adages such as “Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose,” and “Everyone is wise until he speaks,” are traceable to Brehon traditions.

The early doctrines often meshed easily with early Christianity, too. Brehon Law demanded that “whoever comes to your door, you must feed them and care for them with no questions asked”—such blind hospitality was legal requirement, not custom or cultural etiquette.

Drawing from such a deep and rich well, the wealth of treasured Irish blessings isn’t surprising, whatever the occasion. Beyond the familiar “May the road rise to meet you” toast, here are a couple more worth savoring this Hibernophilia Day.

May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
Quick to make friends.
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing
    but happiness
From this day forward.

Fishing figured prominently among Irish pastimes, even so far as to provide a Gaelic twist on the bird-and-bush aphorism declaring that “a trout in the pot is better than a salmon in the sea,” and a similar-themed toast:

The health of a salmon to you: A long life, a full heart and a wet mouth.

However you might pay tribute on this St. Patrick’s Day to the delightful Irish people and traditions, do so with a nod toward their universally adoptable spirit that well regards God, nature, heritage and language.

I’ll leave you with appropriate excerpts from a poem attributed to Thomas Langan, titled “Where is Ireland?”:

Wherever there’s a song to sing,
A friend that needs a hand,
A cause to follow, come what may—
There is Ireland!

You’ll know it by its laughter,
You’ll know it by its tears,
You’ll know it by the warmth of heart
That lasts through all the years.

Ireland is everywhere today.

May you read a little Thomas Moore, watch a few scenes of The Quiet Man, hum along to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” and find yourself among friends.

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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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