Patrick's Day from Songs 4 Teachers
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~~ An Irish Blessing
May the road rise to meet
May the wind be always at your back,
The sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.
The History of Ireland
- an overview
by Rick Steves
One surprising aspect of Ireland is the richness of its
history. While the island is not particularly well-endowed
monuments, it is soaked in history. Here's a
The story of Ireland can be broken into four sections:
BC-500 AD (Iron Age), 500-900 (age of "Saints and Scholars"), 900-1900
(age of invasions and colonization),
and the 20th century (independence and the
question of one Ireland).
Through the Iron Age, the Celtic people left the countryside
peppered with thousands of ancient sights .
While most of what you'll see are
little more than rock piles and take a vigorous imagination to reconstruct
forts, wedge tombs, monumental stones, and so on), just standing next to a
megalith that pre-dates the
pharaohs while surrounded by lush Ireland is
The finest gold, bronze, and iron work of this period is in the
National Museum in Dublin.
The Romans called Ireland Hibernia, "Land of
Winter"--apparently too cold and bleak to merit an attempt to take
colonize. The biggest non-event in Irish history was the Romans never invading.
While the mix of Celtic and Roman contributes to what makes the French French
and the English English, the Irish
are purely Celtic.
If France is "boules"
and England is cricket...Ireland is hurling. This wild Irish national pastime
(like airborne hockey
with no injury timeouts) goes back to Celtic days, 2000
Celts worshipped the sun. Perhaps St. Patrick had an easy time
converting the locals because they had so little
sun to worship.
case, a former Roman slave boy, Patrick, helped Christianize Ireland in the 5th
century. From this
period on, monks established monastic centers of learning
which produced great Christian teachers and
community-builders. They traveled,
establishing monastic communities all over Ireland, Britain and Europe.
them, St. Brendan, may have even sailed to America.
While the collapse of Rome left Europe a mess, it meant
nothing to Ireland. Ireland was and remained a relatively
cohesive society based
on monastic settlements rather than cities. While Europe was rutting in the Dark
the light of civilization shined brightly in Ireland through a golden
age lasting from the 5th through the 9th centuries.
Irish monks--such as those
imported by Charlemagne to help run his Frankish kingdom in 800 AD--actually
the torch of civilization back to Europe. Perhaps the greatest art of
"Dark Age" Europe are the manuscripts
(such as the 8th century Book of
Kells, which you'll see in Dublin) "illuminated"--or richly
illustrated--by Irish monks.
Impressive round towers dot the Irish
landscape--silent reminders of this impressive age.
The Viking invasions of the 9th century wreaked repeated havoc
on the monasteries and shook Irish civilization.
towns (such as Dublin) where, before, there had been only Celtic settlements and
The Normans, who invaded and conquered England after the
Battle of Hastings (1066), were Ireland's next uninvited
guests. In 1169, the
Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland. These invaders, big-time organizers, ushered in a
where society (government, cities, and religious organizations) was
organized on a grander scale. Individual monastic
settlements (the basis of
Irish society in the "Age of Saints and Scholars") were eclipsed by
monastic orders just in
from the Continent such as the Franciscans, Augustinians
The English made a concentrated effort to colonize Ireland in
the 17th century. Settlers were planted and Irish society
was split between an
English-speaking landed gentry and the local Irish-speaking, landless or nearly
peasantry. During the 18th century, English Ireland thrived. Dublin was
Britain's second city.
Over time, greed on the top and dissent on the bottom require
colonial policies to become more repressive.
The Enlightenment provided ideas of
freedom and the Revolutionary age emboldened the Irish masses.
non-Catholic Dubliner, Jonathan Swift, dean of St. Patrick's cathedral in the
early 18th century, declared
"burn all that's British, except its
coal.") To counter this Irish feistiness, English legislation became an
attack on the indiginous Gaelic Culture. The harp was outlawed.
Written and unwritten laws made life for Catholics and speakers of Irish very
The potato famine of 1845 to 1849 was a pivotal event in Irish
history. The stature of Ireland and its language never
recovered. In a few
years, Ireland's population dropped from 8 million to 5 million (3 million
either starved or emigrated).
Ireland's population has not changed since.
Britain's population, on the other hand, has grown from 12 million in 1845
around 60 million today.
(During this period, Ireland's population, as a percent
of England's, dropped from 65% to 8%.)
While the English are likely to blame the famine on
overpopulation (Ireland's population doubled in the 40 years leading
up to the
famine) many Irish say there actually was no famine--just a calculated attempt
to starve down the local
population. In fact, there was plenty of food grown on
the island for export. It was only the potato crop which failed...
happened to be what the Irish subsisted on.
The average farmer grew fancier export products for his
landlord and was paid in potatoes which, in good years, he
grew on the side.
The famine was a turning point in Irish history. Before the
famine, land was subdivided--all the boys got a piece of the
(which grew smaller and smaller with each generation). After the famine the
oldest son got the estate
and the younger siblings, with no way to stay in
Ireland, emigrated to the USA, Canada, Australia and Britain.
Today, there are
40 million Irish-Americans.
After the famine, Irish became the language of the peasant.
English was for the upwardly mobile. Because of the huge
emigration to the USA,
Ireland faced west and American influence increased. (Even in 1996, as
the North and the Republic get going, American involvement
in the talks is welcomed and considered essential by
nearly all parties.)
The tragedy of the famine inflamed the nationalist movement.
Uprising after uprising made it clear that Ireland was
ready to close this
thousand-year chapter of invasions and colonialism.
Finally, in 1919, Ireland
declared its independence. While the northern six counties (the only ones
without a Catholic
majority) voted to stay with Britain, the independent
Republic of Ireland was born.
Excerpted from "Rick Steves' Great Britain &
Blarney is celebrated the world over for a stone on the
parapet that is said to endow whoever kisses it with the eternal
seemingly agreed to deliver his castle to the Crown, he continuously delayed
doing so with
eloquence - the 'Gift of the Gab'. The origin of this custom is unknown, though
the word "blarney", meaning to
placate with soft talk or to deceive
without offending, probably derives from the stream of unfulfilled promises of
Cormac MacDermot MacCarthy to the Lord President of Munster in the late
soft words, which came to be known as "Blarney talk".
The massive castle, which looks even larger because of its
picturesque situation on the edge of a cliff,
was supposedly built in 1446 by
Cormac MacCarthy "the Strong", probably on the site of a castle
occupied by the Lombards, whom the MacCarthys had displaced. It has an L-shaped
plan with five storeys,
the lower two being under a pointed vault with walls 12
feet thick; higher up the walls get thinner and the
rooms bigger. The building
sequence is a little puzzling, but the slender tower containing the main stair
and a tier of small rooms evidently predates the main block. The whole is
crowned with high stepped
battlements, projecting more than 2 feet beyond the
walls and carried by long inverted pyramid corbels.
The MacCarthys held onto the castle with a few interruptions
until the Williamite wars, when Donagh MacCarthy,
the fourth Earl of Clancarty,
supported the losing side and had his estates forfeited. It is said that before
leaving he cast
the family silver into the lake. The property was acquired by
Sir John Jefferys, who built a Gothic-style house onto the
castle with pointed
windows and curvilinear pinnacled battements. This was burnt c. 1820, but a semi
tower still remains. Nearby the family made a megalithic
garden folly and in 1874 they built a Scottish Baronial-style
the lake in the park.
Kissing the Blarney Stone
The world famous Blarney Stone is situated high up in the battlements of the
castle. Follow one of the several long,
stone spiral staircases up to the top
and enjoy the spectacular views of the lush green Irish countryside, Blarney
House and The Village of Blarney.
The stone is believed to be half of the Stone of Scone which originally belonged
to Scotland. Scottish Kings were
crowned over the stone, because it was believed
to have special powers. The stone was given to Cormac McCarthy
by Robert the Bruce in 1314 in return for
his support in the Battle of Bannockburn.
Queen Elizabeth I wanted Irish chiefs to agree to occupy their own lands under
title from her. Cormac Teige McCarthy,
the Lord of Blarney, handled every Royal
request with subtle diplomacy, promising loyalty to the Queen without
"giving in". Elizabeth proclaimed that McCarthy was giving her "a
lot of Blarney", thus giving rise to the legend.
The Legend of the Leprechaun
you should be walking along a wooded path some moonlit night in Spring and hear
the faint tap-tapping of a tiny
hammer, you might be lucky enough to catch a
glimpse of an Irish leprechaun, the elfin shoemaker, whose roguish
the delight of Irish story-telling.
According to legend, the
leprechaun has a pot of gold hidden somewhere, and he must give up his treasure
one who catches him. You'll have to step lively and think quickly to
capture a leprechaun's gold though, because this
sly little fellow will fool you
into looking away for an instant while he escapes into the forest. A story is told of thee man
compelled a leprechaun to take him to the bush where the gold was buried. The
man tied a red handkerchief to
the bush in order to recognize the spot again
and ran home for a spade. He was gone only three minutes, but when he
to dig, there was a red handkerchief on every bush in the field.
As long as there are Irishmen to
believe in the "little folk," there will be leprechauns to reflect the
sense of fun, and many a new story of leprechaun shenanigans
will be added to Irish folklore each year.
The Legend of the
ago, When Ireland was the land of Druids, there was a great Bishop, Patrick by
name, who came to teach the
word of God throughout the county. This saint, for he was indeed a
saint, was well loved everywhere.
One day, however, a group of his followers came
to him and admitted that it was difficult for them to believe in the
Catholic doctrine of
the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God.
Saint Patrick reflected a moment
and then, stooping down, he plucked a leaf from the shamrock and held it before
them, bidding then to behold the living example of the "Three-in-One."
The simple beauty of this explanation convinced
these skeptics, and from that
day the shamrock has been revered throughout Ireland and is a symbol of the
a cornerstone of Catholicism.
The Life of Saint Patrick
The Patron Saint of Ireland was born into either a Scottish or English family in
the fourth century. He was captured as
a teenager by Niall of the Nine
Hostages who was to become a King of all Ireland. He was sold into slavery in Ireland
and put to work as a shepherd. He worked in
terrible conditions for six years drawing comfort in the Christian faith that
many of his people had abandoned under Roman rule.
Patrick had a dream that encouraged him to flee his captivity and to head South
where a ship was to be waiting for him.
He traveled over 200 miles from his
Northern captivity to Wexford town where, sure enough, a ship was waiting to
Upon arrival in England he was captured by brigands and returned to slavery. He
escaped after two months and spent
the next seven years traveling Europe
seeking his destiny.
During this time he furthered his education and studied Christianity in the
Lerin Monastery in France. He returned to
England as a priest. Again a dream
greatly influenced him when he became convinced that the Irish people were
out to him to return to the land of his servitude.
He went to the Monastery in Auxerre where it was decided that a mission should
be sent to Ireland. Patrick was not
selected for this task to his great
disappointment. The monk that was selected was called Paladius, but he died
he could reach Ireland and a second mission was decided upon.
Patrick was made a Bishop by Pope Celestine in the year 432 and, together with a
small band of followers, traveled to
Ireland to commence the conversion.
Patrick confronted the most powerful man in Ireland Laoghaire, The High King
of Tara as he knew that if he could gain
his support that he would be safe
to spread the word throughout Ireland. To get his attention Patrick and his
lit a huge fire to mark the commencement of Spring. Tradition had it
that no fire was to be lit until the Kings fire was
complete, but Patrick defied
this rule and courted the
confrontation with the King.
The King rushed into action and travelled with the intention of making war on
the holy delegation.
Patrick calmed the King and with quiet composure impressed
the King that he had no other intention
than that of spreading the word of the
Gospel. The King accepted the missionary, to the dismay of
the Druids who
feared for their own power and position in the face of this new threat.
commanded that he make snow fall. Patrick declined to do so stating that this
was Gods work.
Immediately it began to snow, only stopping when Patrick blessed
Still trying to convince the King of his religion Patrick grasped at some
Shamrock growing on the
ground. He explained that there was but one stem on the
plant, but three branches of the leaf,
representing the Belssed Trinity. The
King was impressed with his sincerity and granted him
permission to spread the
word of his faith, although he did not convert to Christianity himself.
Patrick and his followers were free to spread their faith throughout Ireland and
did so to great effect.
He drove paganism (symbolized by the snake) from the
lands of Eireann.
Patrick was tempted by the Devil whilst on a pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick. For
his refusal to be tempted, God rewarded
him with a wish. Patrick asked that the
Irish be spared the horror of Judgment Day and that he himself be allowed to
judge his flock. Thus, the legend that Ireland will disappear under a sea of
water seven years before the final judgment,
Patrick died on March 17th in the year 461 at the age of 76. It is not known for
sure where his remains were laid although
Downpatrick in County Down in the
North of Ireland is thought to be his final resting place.
His influence is still felt to this day as Nations the world over commemorate
him on March 17th of every year.
History of the Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh Ring originated in the Claddagh fishing village near
Galway City in the
West of Ireland.
The ring shows two hands (representing
friendship) presenting a heart (representing love)
adorned by a crown
(representing loyalty) and it is thus the traditional Irish wedding band.
The motto associated with the ring is 'Let love and friendship reign'.
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