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AT THE LIBRARY
“There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who are Irish and those who want to be Irish.” Celtic Proverb
Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, a time to celebrate all things Irish. Are you having corned beef, cabbage and soda bread? Maybe you will imbibe a Guinness ale or drink a bit of Jameson whiskey. Here in America we seem to celebrate the day with food and drink, but this holiday is about so much more than eating and drinking.
Irish culture, history, legend and lore are ancient and rich in tradition. What do you know about symbols, history and folklore of the Irish?
St. Patrick was patron saint and national apostle of Ireland who is credited with successfully bringing Christianity to Ireland. Did he really drive the snakes out of Ireland? Probably not, since snakes weren’t native to Ireland. Patrick used the shamrock, a native plant in Ireland, to explain the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here in central Pennsylvania we have shamrocks, too. We call this plant clover.
Irish stories often involve mystical and magical creatures such as fairies, banshees, boggarts and, of course, leprechauns. Most of us are familiar with fairies and their magical powers. A banshee is a female spirit in Irish mythology who heralds the death of a family member, usually by wailing, shrieking or keening. If you’ve read the Harry Potter books you know that a boggart is a shape-shifting creature that will assume the form of whatever most frightens the person who encounters it. Leprechauns are little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat, who partake in mischief and have a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
How do these creatures manifest themselves today? Do you have candles in your windows? Do you have small night lights in your home? You might think these are decorative or illuminate an area so you don’t stub your toes in the dark. But, they also serve as fairy lights to welcome these magical little creatures and ward against banshees. When I got married, my mother-in-law gave me a set of fairy lights to protect our home. And, she was dead serious about this.
When the Irish immigrated to America during the potato famine they brought their stories, songs, dances and customs with them, and certainly enriched our country with their skills and talents. However, they were discriminated against and were labeled “Black Irish,” a derogatory and insulting description. Americans may think they coined this phrase. Not true. When the Spanish Armada sunk off the coast of Ireland, the surviving sailors swam ashore. They married Irish lasses and their offspring had dark hair and eyes and were dubbed Black Irish.
Many of us who have Irish ancestors have a “Mc” in our genealogy charts. Mc means “son of.” My mother’s maiden name is McCahan, so we are the son of Cahan. When my husband’s relatives came through Ellis Island it was during the time when the influx from Ireland was at its peak. They dropped the “Mc” in an effort to better assimilate into the American culture.
The Irish are great storytellers and poets and Irish American authors have made wonderful contributions to literature. One of my favorite Irish American authors is Patricia Reilly Giff. Her Newbery Honor book, “Nory Ryan’s Song” is a poignant story of a young girl’s struggle and journey during the potato famine. The sequel, “Maggie’s Door,” continues Nory’s tale to reach America. When combined with “Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850,” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, readers are treated to an insider’s view that may well resemble their own family’s history.
It is said that on St. Paddy’s Day everyone is Irish so I’ll raise my glass, or cup of tea, and make a toast to you. “You’re My Pot of Gold!” Come into the library and check out a book with a green cover.
Thank you to everyone who supported the 3rd annual mini-golf fundraiser. We had a great time on the greens!
Molly S. Kinney is the director at the Mifflin County Library. She is currently celebrating her Irish heritage by reading “Great Fairy Tales of Ireland,” by Mary McGarry.