You have to wonder what St. Patrick thinks about the way we celebrate his feast day. I’m not talking about the drinking. I always raise a glass or two in his honor. Well, not THIS year. This year, I’ve gone the whole nine yards, not just giving up alcohol for lent (which I’ve done before) but also refusing my traditional self-dispensation for March 17, known affectionately to me as the “Irish Mardi Gras Indulgence.”
What I do wonder is what St. Patrick thinks about our focus on Irish-ness rather than on the fact that he, by the grace of God, converted Ireland, putting me and my ancestors on the road to our real home of Heaven.
I’m the first person to take to task, mind you. Unless St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday, you won’t find me in church. I’ll be wearing a green necktie to work, maybe singing a few songs for my coworkers, and putting on some Irish music for the lovely corned beef dinner my wife (she of 100% Polish heritage) always cooks, complete with Irish brown bread.
We’ll be moving that meal to Saturday or Sunday this year, of course. Our archbishop has granted the eating of meat for St. Patrick’s Day, but my green necktie and I will be singing Irish songs at a Knights of Columbus fish fry that night.
As Irish as St. Patrick…he wasn’t born there, either.
I’ve been involved in celebrating Irish culture pretty much all my life. Ours wasn’t a particularly ethnic family, (by the time I cared to know, nobody on either side could’ve told you where in Ireland the family emigrated from), but there was always plenty of green around on St. Patrick’s Day. We always went to the Jersey City St. Patrick’s Day parade. And of course, there was the aroma of corned beef and cabbage coming from more than one doorway in our walk-up.
Aside from St. Patrick’s Day, I have it on good authority that my father and his brothers used to get a few beers in them at Grandma Moore’s on Sundays and take turns singing Irish songs. My crooner father’s go-to number was “A Little Bit of Heaven (Shure They Called it Ireland).” I say “on good authority” because I’m not an eyewitness. Both Grandma Moore and my dad were residents of eternity by the time I was five years old, so if those Sunday gatherings ever included me, I have no memory of it.
How’s that for an Irish Catholic blog entry? My mother’s a young widow, I’m a fatherless 5-year-old, and I’ve only just gotten started.
Is it cultural appropriation a generation or two removed?
My earliest memory of personally commemorating my heritage is having narrated the Irish section of a “Christmas Around the World” school pageant, circa 1971.
In my Sunday best, bedecked in an “Ireland” pageant banner, complete with green felt letters sewn on by my sainted mother, I took the stage and filled the auditorium with my unchanged voice: “Irish folklore is FULL of traditional customs that originated in medieval times!” The teacher who coached me really wanted me to hit “FULL.”
My speech was followed by what I’m sure was a groundbreaking stage production of “Christmas in Killarney” (another Irish favorite written well west of Ireland). After that, I stepped forward to proclaim, “And now, Father John will bless the house,” leading into my friend Terence as Father John: “God bless the master of this house. Likewise, the mistress too….”
The things we remember.
Anyway, all that to say I have a long pedigree of cultural appropriation when it comes to the land of my forbears. Since that evening in the sixth grade, my celebrations of Irish culture have included lots of singing and even writing plays for an Irish American theatre company
St. Patrick deserves a pub song.
Among the singing portions of it all was a once-upon-a-time weekly gig at an Irish bar; said gig included playing several sets on St. Patrick’s Day as part of a larger extravaganza.
Ask me how many of the songs I sang on St. Patrick’s Day had anything to do with St. Patrick.
Zip. Zero. Nialas, as it is said in Irish (at least that’s what the internet told me). Every song was about Ireland, fighting for Ireland, some guy pining for Ireland, or some guy pining for an Irish girl; there were also novelty songs like “The Rattlin’ Bog” and “The Unicorn” (Noah gets a song, but not St. Patrick).
In sixty-plus years, I’ve sung and heard a lot of Irish songs on a lot of St. Patrick’s Days and not one of them has mentioned St. Patrick. There’s an old patter song called “St. Patrick Was a Gentleman” but it’s not exactly the kind of tribute he deserves (call me fussy).
St. Patrick deserves more than just a song, anyway; he deserves a prayer. So, I offer you “Pub Song for St. Patrick,” which pokes fun at concupiscence while prayerfully begging the good saint’s intercession:
Oh, Patrick! Saint Patrick! I ask you to pray.
Pray for me and with me, that I’ll mend my ways.
Oh, Patrick! Saint Patrick! Please, pray I’ll begin
to be a bit more of a saint than I’ve been.
Give a listen and please, join in on the chorus. Feel free to make up some verses and share them below…or team up with someone who knows the A, D, E, B7 and E7 guitar chords and sing them on St. Patrick’s Day!
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig dhuit!
And I truly hope that means what the interwebs told me it means.
P.S. Speaking of “Christmas in Killarney” one of its cowriters turns out to have been a Catholic fellow after my own heart. And here’s the 1915 hit recording of the number that became my father’s signature song (written by Ernest Ball and J. Keirn Brennan). If you want to give “Saint Patrick Was a Gentleman” a try, go here.
P.P.S. Don’t like singing in A? I took the liberty throwing in some transpositions. Try C, F, G, D7, G7 or D, G, A, E7, A7 or G, C, D, A7, D7.