Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Captive Saint

Images of Saint Columba, Saint Patrick, and Saint Brigida, Taken from the Spicilegium Sanctorum, and engraven at Paris,A.D. 1629, by Messingham.  Public domain claimed.

Greetings All:

Or should I say, "Top o' the morning!"  It is that time of year when a bunch of folks celebrate their Irish heritage and welcome everyone else to join in the fun.  Yesterday, we bundled up to headed down to "The Grand Parade,"  the only bi-state St. Patrick's Day Parade in the country.  About 20 years ago, I had the good fortune to get to drive the Grand Marshall, back when the Camaro was in its prime.  The parade was super and it was good to see a gathering of a clan of Irish and Irish for the Day.  The parade was grand indeed.  Even the sun came out, Irish eyes were not only smiling, they were squinting for those without sunglasses.  I am pleased to also report that it was a fun, well-behaved crowd, at least from my spot on the parade route.   

I know there are those who take issue with some of the more..."robust" celebrating that takes place.  I suspect that there might be one or two lads that will have a wee bit too much fun.  I just hope they have the good sense not to drive home.  These folks are thankfully few and far between.  To those who take issue with St. Pat's being too much about fun too trivial, I'd offer this:  One of the many great gifts to the world from the Irish is wit, story-telling, song and yes, fun.  The older I get, the more important fun becomes.  In fact, spending time with family and friends is not a trivial endeavor.  It is an essential ingredient of life.  

And this is a fun time of year.  While it might not seem like it outside, spring is coming.  I always consider day of the "Grand Parade" to be the unofficial start of spring,...even if I'm wearing a wool sweater and gloves.  Today there is snow on the ground but it’s a temporary annoyance.  Winter is dying and with spring comes new life.  Spring is the season of optimism.

The banner from "The Grand Parade" 2014, photo by Jeno Berta

I also think us Irish are optimists.  It’s not that we’re immune to reality.  For centuries, the Irish endured sufferings, culminating with that most genocidal event, the potato famine.  A million Irish men, women and children died, starved actually.  Source (  I found this quote from one of my favorite writers, William Butler Yeats that sums up what it was to be Irish not so long ago:  "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."  

Many of us who are descendants of those who had that “abiding sense of tragedy,” coming to America and finding yes opportunity, but also bigotry.  We’re not that far removed from the days of “No Irish Need Apply."  The picture below is of a memorial in my hometown of an Irish family coming to America.  The parade ends a bead necklace throw away from it.  I think if Bill Y would have seen yesterday’s parade, he’d have to re-think his quote as joy and tragedy had flip-flopped.

The Irish Memorial in Downtown Davenport, photo by Jeno Berta

So you might be wondering how I tie up optimism with tragedy?  Here’s how, the namesake of the holiday, St. Patrick, the captive saint.  St. Patrick was kidnapped as a youth and sold into bondage in Ireland by pirates.  Clearly, that’s a tragedy, even by Irish standards.  Still, St. Pat did not wallow in his circumstances.  He found a basis for it, a justification for action.  Here’s a quote from him:  

"Therefore I cannot and ought not to be silent concerning the great benefits and graces which the Lord has bestowed upon me in the land of my captivity, since the only return we can make for such benefits is, after God has reproved us, to extol and confess His wonders before every nation under heaven."

From The Beginning of the Books of the Bishop St. Patrick, source: 

I think St. Pat was too hard on himself.  I also think that when he looks down on the revelry he'll see these next few days, he'll smile.  I also hope he recognizes that his captivity helped spur freedom for so many more who followed him.  Now that is something to celebrate.

Slán abhaile,


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