Thursday, March 18, 2021


Did Green Day derive their name from the Green Day of March 17? And I know I am a day or two late in nailing it, but it is one of many questions I don't plan to investigate too deeply, because it wasn't, but it's as good a place to start as any. It seems strange to me how St Patricks Day has become such a big thing in the U.S., certainly compared to his supposed homeland of Ireland. Even if, in the same way life imitates artifice, it is now catching up. I'm not sure the Liffey has ever been dyed green like Chicago's Chicago River, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were for the future. Not this year mind, but in the same way that Irish bars have become such a big thing all over the world, what the US identifies with as a merchandising exercise today, catches on, well, everywhere, in due course. Hell, even Thanksgiving is becoming a thing over this side of the pond, which seems more than a little counter-intuitive.Too much like turkeys celebrating Christmas. (Which is when turkey is supposed to be eaten, I should add.)

But it is St. Pat of Paddy's Day we are here to blether about, and the abiding myths and legends seem as good a place to start.

Paul Brady is, for me, the consummate Irish performer, and I would place him above Van Morrison, Christy Moore, Phil Lynott, Bono, any of them. A soaring and piercing voice, a human equivalent of uillean pipes, and capable of bringing forth similar tearful emotions, allied to a masterful guitar technique and, if his majesty with the traditional canon isn't enough, a glorious songwriter to boot. This traditional lament has been covered by him at many stages of his career, but it is this version that is the best, from his first solo album, and also his last to fully feature only trad.arr. Shamrocks were said to have been an essential part of St. Patricks preaching, using the three leaves as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. It may also have been that pagan Ireland already held sacred this plant, and so used that regard as a link between old divinities and the new. It seems plausible, and probably why this plucky little plant is the national emblem of the land. But, tell me, does the shamrock ever have four heads, or is that a clover led question?

Let's stick with Irish artists to tackle the next topic, the tale of how St. Patrick rid Ireland of snakes. It seems that, whilst meditating and fasting, he was disturbed by one, and was so outraged that he henceforth banished all snakes and drove them into the sea. This strikes me as an ultimately dodgy story, and seems hard to swallow. That was, however, ahead of my appreciating that neither are there snakes in Iceland, Greenland, Hawaii or New Zealand. And never were, at least once they became islands. So unless Saints Thorlak, Arnaldur, Damien or the Virgin Mary were responsible for a similar banishment in those countries, I suspect it pure supposition. There are snakes, of course, in Ireland, but only in zoos and as pets. (What if one, or two, I suppose, escaped?) Shane McGowan is a learned and erudite soul around all things Irish, his songwriting awash with imagery and legend. The snake here is a ring, but one feels a whole lot more too. This is from McGowan's post (and between) Pogues project, the Popes, after he had become too unreliable for his bandmates, but before his muse had succumbed entirely to the ravages of his lifestyle.

So this is the one where St. Patrick's staff takes root and grows into a tree. I think we have all been to church services where the sermon has gone on so long that that would seem an entirely expected phenomenon, but I am not sure that is the message the legend imparts. The staff was made of ash, I gather, and, rather than down to the length of the discourse, was about the length of time the locals took to latch on to this Christianity lark. There are lots of songs about trees, especially in the folk idiom, and the piece chosen is only part provided by an Irishman, the wonderful uillean pipes prodigy and singer, Jarlath Henderson. With a vocal tone not dissimilar from that of Paul Brady, he combines a career as a musician, often in cahoots with fellow gael, the Scottish piper and whistler player, Ross Ainslie, with qualifying and working as a medical doctor. (Here is the duo with another song, an instrumental of the same name, from when they were both teenagers.)

The final story is how St. Patrick apparently met with two ancient Irish warriors, Oisin and Cailte Mac Ronain, who had somehow managed to survive the centuries and be there for him to try and convert from their pagan ways. They didn't get on, it seems, and it all gets very complicated as to why they met, other than for him to contrast the sunny lit uplands of the calm and Christian life, as compared to their roustabout fighting and brawling. St. Patrick seems to have prevailed as, given their great age, they died and he lived. It all sounds like the later episodes of TV boxset Vikings, which became progressively less fun as Heaven overtook Valhalla as final destination of choice. And there couldn't be a better illustration of pagan irish ways than by Horslips. The track above comes from The Tain, their 1973 musical re-telling of the legend of Finn MacCool, from whose warrior clan came the two elderly relics who met up with St. Patrick.


Brady, McGowan, Henderson, Horslips.