Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy St. Patrick's Day

With copious amounts of Irish blood flowing through my veins, and with family names of the Emerald Isle such as McBride, Kelley, Collins, Croom, Green and Means in my lineage, I wish you all a Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Who was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity's most widely known figures. It is known that St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At the age of sixteen, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian.

After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. He wrote that a voice, which he believed to be God's, spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation - an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick began religious training, lasting more than fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. (Interestingly, this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.)

Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. He used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic Cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.

He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D.

Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.

Did You Know?
There are 34 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry. This number is almost nine times the population of Ireland itself (3.9 million). Irish is the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German.

There are three states in which Irish is the leading ancestry group: Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Irish is among the top five ancestries in every state but two (Hawaii and New Mexico).

There are 54 counties where Irish is the largest observed ancestry group. Forty-four of these counties are in the Northeast, with 14 in New York, 11 in Massachusetts and five in New Jersey.

In Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 348,978 residents are of Irish ancestry. Among the 54 counties where Irish is the largest observed ancestry group, Middlesex had the highest population of Irish-Americans, with Norfolk County, Massachusetts coming in second with 203,285.

A total of 4.8 million immigrants from Ireland have entered the U.S. since 1820, the earliest year for which official immigration records exist. Only Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and Mexico have had more immigrants enter the United States than Ireland.

The value of U.S. imports from the Republic of Ireland during a recent 10-month period (January-October 2004) was $23 billion. Meanwhile, the United States exported $6.6 billion worth of goods to Ireland.

There are nine places in the United States that share the name of Ireland’s capital, Dublin. Since the 2000 census, Dublin, California has surpassed Dublin, Ohio, as the most populous of these places (35,581 compared with 33,606 as of July 1, 2003).

(Courtesy The History Channel.)