On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Happy O'Postraphe Day

B- and I have decided not to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. We've redubbed it O'Postraphe Day in celebration of our Irishness, as opposed to a lasting symbol of British oppression.


B- turns to me this morning and says, "what did St. Patrick do anyway?"

Jen: "Ran the snakes out of Ireland. I dunno why we celebrate that though."

Cue Wikipedia with the scoop on St. Patrick. Seems that Patty wasn't even Irish. He was a Briton, and a missionary at a time when the Catholic Church regarded Celts as godless animals. So, Patty was at the front lines of quashing Irish heritage. And we love him why?

And the snakes? There were never any snakes in Ireland. Wikipedia suggests that the snakes were actually Druid symbols. Wiki goes on to speculate that Patrick was instrumental in introducing the concept of threes, so prevalent in Irish symbology, a three leaf shamrock if you will. Basically, Patrick was manipulating the existing belief system to be more compatible with the Catholic Church.

I didn't used to care about the historical problems between Ireland and Britain. My family has been in America for several generations now, and I'm a typical mut. Owing to my mom's Irish maiden name, however, I've always identified more closely with my Irish heritage.

A couple of years ago, Mom and I traveled to western Ireland on a pilgrimage of sorts. The West is relatively rural, providing a glimpse of traditional life. It's also the region most devastated by the famine that compelled so many to leave their home for America, including mine and B-'s Irish ancestors.

What struck me was the sheer beauty of the land. It's the Emerald Isle for a reason. Holy cow that is one green country. It's just so spectacular. And the sea is so blue. So blue. Everywhere you go is evidence of the rich and ancient culture that prevailed for centuries before the Romans came to muck it all up. The Irish are a people that love their country. The soil is fertile and families are close. There is no reason to leave.

It's not easy to piece together the circumstance of the famine. It's a very controversial topic with some likening the English behavior to genocide. Wikipedia's account is notably balanced, but the view within the hardest hit regions is that the neglect was deliberate. Keep in mind that at the time it was a widely held belief that the Irish were a subclass of humans, inferior to the English. The idea that Irish and English are different was only recently debunked by a DNA study of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English people revealing that we are all from the same stock. The growing rift between Protestants and Catholics is also considered to be a contributing factor. Regardless of why, the British government had an obligation to feed its starving people and they didn't. The just didn't.

They forced my family to flee their beloved country, and that hit home as I stood atop the cliffs of the Dingle coast gazing at the treacherous sea. On the one hand you have an amazing land and a strong sense of place. On the other hand you have a dangerous passage to a country that doesn't really want you, where you are going to be treated like dogs. What a choice! What a crappy, crappy choice.

People sometimes snicker at Americans with Irish heritage who cling so strongly to a culture that isn't really theirs. For me, it's because in my heart I know that my ancestors didn't really want to leave their land, and that they sacrificed so much for me to be here at all. To hold them in memory is to honor their struggle.

So, what does this all have to do with me and B- rejecting St. Patrick? Patrick was British and among the first to treat our ancestors like so much crap, though he did it less obviously and bit more subversively. The only reason he's the patron saint of Ireland is because of the strength of the Catholic Church and good marketing. I'd even be ok with that, even though we're not Catholic, but for him playing a role in suppressing our ancient culture - the very thing we celebrate on his day.

Instead, we'll raise our glasses to the O'Postraphes in mine and B-s' family (even those that dropped the O' to avoid stigma in America), for their courage and sheer will to live. We remember.

Éirinn go Brách

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Blogger Reid said...

Judging from the ritual celebrations, St. Patrick also drank a lot and threw up in alleys in Cleveland Park.

6:42 PM GMT+1

Blogger PeeKay said...

dont forget about the green milkshakes. all i did to celebrate was make some irish soda bread. but since i used lowfat buttermilk, i know the clan is rolling in their graves!

6:02 PM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

As long as you can hit someone over the head with it the next day, no worries on the low fat soda bread. Did it turn out?

Mmmm soda bread.

Can I also just tell you that I happened to have some hazelnut yoghurt at a B&B on that trip, and I have never since been able to find that flavor.

6:37 PM GMT+1

Anonymous guney said...

I'm a Kurdish-American. It always seemed to me that Kurds and Irish have some akin characteristics. At least historically. But at least you guys learned to unite and fight earlier than us. The religion of the oppressor still is an effective divisive tool against Kurds. By the way, Kurds have Newroz, a celebration of coming of spring, on March 21. And it symbolizes the rebellion against tyranny. Pretty sure St. Patrick's day is some corrupt version of an ancient nature-based tradition in Ireland. Here is a wikipedia page on Kurdish Newroz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newroz_as_celebrated_by_Kurds

12:38 AM GMT+1


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