When March comes around, St. Patrick moves to stage center

Hardy pilgrims climb up past the statue of St. Patrick on their way to climb Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo.

March is here – and that means it’s nearly spring in New England! Ireland is already enjoying spring weather and the daffodil, that cheery harbinger of warmer weather, has been blooming and brightening the landscape for several weeks and its season is now nearly over.
In addition to heralding the arrival of spring, March is also the month when that special man - Saint Patrick - is toasted and honored everywhere.


We probably all know St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint. But, how many of us knew that he is also the patron saint of engineers, and of Nigeria?
It seems that Ireland has a long history with Nigeria. Irishman Roger Casement — executed in Dublin for his part in the Easter Rising — served as a consular officer in southeastern Nigeria during the 1890s. Scholars say Casement’s interest in, and sympathy for, Africans under colonial rule was unusual for a European in the Victorian era and may well have formed his views on social justice.

Irish priests from the Order of the Holy Ghost established a mission in southern Nigeria in the early 1920s. Later, St. Patrick’s Society for Foreign Missions became one of many Catholic groups to bring religious and secular education to the country.

And in 1961 - when the Irish government opened an embassy in Lagos – St. Patrick was chosen as Nigeria’s patron saint.


Legends abound about St. Patrick. Was there more than one Patrick? Where was he really born and buried? Did he do all the things for which he is given credit? He allegedly drove snakes out of Ireland but some scholars say there never were snakes in Ireland – and that’s probably just one of many dubious but interesting legends.

According to ecclesiastical authorities, his dates of birth and death are questionable as is his birthplace - maybe Scotland, maybe England, possibly northern Wales.

Whatever his background, childhood, or education, he was reportedly consecrated a bishop in France at the age of 43 and then traveled to the west and north of Ireland to convert pagans there. Patrick, who was protected by local kings, made numerous converts, ordained many priests, divided the country into dioceses, held church councils, and founded several monasteries.


No one can predict how Brexit will affect future travel to Northern Ireland, but if you are interested in learning more about St. Patrick and his story, you won’t find better or more complete information than at The Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down.

The Centre, which claims to be the world’s only permanent exhibition about St. Patrick, has interactive galleries as well as IMAX, an art gallery with work by local artists, an outstanding craft shop, and a garden cafe with views of the medieval Cathedral of Down where the grave of Saint Patrick is located. Also buried in the graveyard at Down Cathedral are St. Brigid and St. Columba, also known as Columkille.

Nearby sites associated with Patrick include Inch Abbey, where the legend of the snakes was allegedly written, and the first church in Ireland at Saul, where Patrick reportedly died on March 17.


St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in most cities and towns across Ireland - and the world. My first visit to Ireland, which coincided with the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, was in 1976 with the Boston Police Emerald Society. The trip was organized by Round Tower Travel from Norwood and offered a series of options from a deluxe bus tour ($239 per person) to car rental and hotels (varied prices from $98 to $159 per person.)

If you chose car rental only, the price ranged from $85 to $135 for eight days depending on the car size. I recently booked a car for this spring and the cost is now more than $60 a day! Guess 1976 could truly be called “the good old days.”

It was the Emerald Society’s first time marching in the Dublin parade and it was exciting to see how proud marchers were to be representing Boston and their Irish heritage. My husband was a member of the group and my very important job on the 17th was to carry the group’s flag covers along the parade route from beginning to end. I nearly lost the covers several times along the way in the crush of spectators jamming every sidewalk.

During that eight-day trip, we drove all over the country; I was totally hooked.


Even though I visit Ireland often now, it took nearly 40 years to experience my second St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland – this time on Achill Island (Co. Mayo), to watch the traditional pipe band marches that have been held there annually since 1882. Marchers gather in the early morning and march for most of the day – probably one of the longest St. Patrick’s Day parades anywhere.

Rain poured down when I visited Achill for the parade, but marchers and onlookers weren’t at all daunted and it was a fascinating musical spectacle. It’s highly recommended if you’re anywhere near the west coast and Achill Island on March 17.

The pipe bands (Dooagh, Keel, Pollagh, and Dookinella) march to Mass (in Irish) at St. Patrick’s Church in Pollagh and then to Mass at Dookinella Church. The bands play in Pollagh, march to Dookinella, play again, and then march back to their villages.

After the pipe band parades, visitors can find refreshment in pubs or hotels. An added plus is driving around to enjoy the island’s amazing scenery. In the evening, traditional and modern entertainment is offered in many of the local hotels and pubs.


Brittney LaCoste is no stranger to making dog beds. She started a company – dawg-tired.com - in Wisconsin that makes dog beds. She has now started another company – thesheepishdog.com – with an Irish twist.

She and her husband, Harry Campbell, love fishing for trout and salmon and had visited Ireland many times to enjoy the sport – especially in Connemara. In 2015, they bought a farm in Co. Mayo where sheep abound and Brittney had what you might call a “eureka” moment. The Irish make beautiful tweeds and dog beds need covers (tweeds.) Dog beds also need stuffing – aha, wool!

That’s basically how The Sheepish Dog was born. Dog beds are filled with wool from Brittney’s and area farmers’ sheep and covers are sewn from Irish tweed bought from Hanly in Co. Tipperary.

Sheep produce a new fleece every year and are normally sheared in the summer so they grow new fleece before winter. “It takes the wool from one sheep to fill a bed,” Brittney said, adding that wool is 100-percent natural, sustainable, biodegradable, and recyclable and has balanced thermal properties that regulate a dog’s body temperature keeping them warm in winter and cool in summer.

Wool is naturally hypoallergenic and resistant to bacteria, mold, and mildew, she says. It also repels dust mites and cleans with a vacuum or in cool water. Covers unzip for easy washing.

“Everyone who’s bought them loves them,” she said. “They are truly unique and not copied from other dog beds.” Brittney and Harry have two onsite testers too – German Shorthaired Pointers Maggie and Libby – who verify that the wool-filled beds are just great.

In nearby Newport, Brittney set up a sewing studio where several women work on the beds. Others in the area sew covers in their homes.

The beds sell direct to consumers, she said, adding that wool-filled beds are more comfortable for dogs than synthetic fiber-filled beds and keep their shape even after years of daily use.

“We love sheep. We love wool. And most of all, we love our dogs - sheepish or not.”


March is a great time to visit the island. Many attractions that close for the winter spring to life around March 17. Enjoy the country whenever and wherever you go. See Ireland.com for information about accommodation, events, and more.