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Celebrating The Real St Patrick'S Day

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Celebration of the Real St. Patrick's Day

March 17 is considered the one day in the year to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Patrick, which traditionally takes place between the fire festivals of Feb 1 (Brigid's Day) and May 1 (Beltaine Day) and is early potato planting time in Ireland.

Several years ago I climbed Croagh Padraig (ie St. Patrick's Mountain) during early March before the larger crowds of pilgrims would arrive on March 17. The pilgrimage was one that my ancestors had long participated in although the climb was especially arduous in March with mist, rain, sleet and snow pelting down as you make your way up the 2500 ft, mountain which overlooks Clew Bay in Mayo. It was on Clew Bay where many Irish began their own arduous voyage to America during the Great Famine of the mid-19th century, with hundreds of thousands eventually settling in the U.S.

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The climb to the top of Croagh Patrick was a religious exercise for pilgrims since it was here 1500 years ago that St. Patrick fasted on bread and water for 40 days while meditating and praying.

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Most historians say that St Patrick was born in Wales during the Romano-British period, prior to the invasion of the Anglo- Saxon tribes. Patrick was from a patrician family and of Old British stock, all of whom were subject to depredations by, Anglo-Saxons as well as Irish raiders following the withdrawal of Roman troops. Captured at the age of 16 he was sold to a farmer to herd sheep and cattle. After six years he escaped by walking the length of the country to take a ship back to Wales and then to France where he studied for many years at a monastery before returning to Ireland.

After many years of evangelizing St. Patrick was honored as one of three patron saints of Ireland, along with St. Bridget and St.Columba, the founder of Iona Monastery in Scotland. Patrick is recognized, not only in the Catholic church, but also among Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox. In Ireland it was traditional to honor him with religious services. As a youth in Ireland I participated in ceremonial processions on St. Patrick's Day, a day of fasting and church attendance.

After Patrick's death in 493 AD the native Irish continued his legacy but adopted a style more suited to rural life using small stone buildings for monastic foundations and island hermitages. St. Columba, in the 6th century, founded monasteries in Ireland and Scotland while others, such as Columbanus brought the ascetic style of the Celtic church to the founding of monasteries in Germany, France and Italy. One of Columba's clan, Adamnan, (Eunan) later became the abbot of Iona and convinced over one hundred clan leaders to adopt the Peace of Eunan (Cain Eunan) and not slay women, children or clergy in clan battles.

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There are an estimated 80 million people in the diaspora of Irish throughout the world, about 40 million live in the U.S. and Canada. When the Irish first arrived in large numbers in the 18th century their animosity toward England was a result of having been deprived of their livelihoods due to industrial manufacture in England. The Scots-Irish and Irish became a major factor in the revolutionary army of George Washington, providing at least one-third of the soldiers and nine of his Generals.

General John Sullivan, whose father was Owen O'Sullivan from the Beara Peninsula, Ireland, was one of these and became governor of NH, and his brother James became the governor of Massachussetts. Another Maine family was that of Jeremiah O'Brien of Machias, who with his four brothers initiated the first naval battle of the Revolution.

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I teach courses in peace & reconciliation studies at the University of Maine.

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