By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Welcome to March, the month to celebrate St. Patrick and everything Irish.
There are so many stories about the good saint and as many questions as to whether there was just one Patrick or many who traveled around to spread Christianity. If there was only one, he was very well-traveled and, like St. Bridgid, managed to get around exceedingly well in an era when there were no cars, trains or other such means of transportation.
The St. Patrick who is celebrated this month was reportedly born in Britain around 400 AD. He was captured by bandits and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was 15. He escaped captivity and ultimately returned to Ireland to convert the pagans.
Patrick is said to have died on March 17. He was buried in the graveyard beside Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. Although Patrick is credited with driving snakes from Ireland while fasting atop Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo, it is said that there never were any snakes in Ireland. Snakes were simply a symbol used for the conversion of pagans and the expulsion of Satan from the country.
If you would like to learn more about St. Patrick, his life and journeys, you might start at the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, that is billed as “the only permanent exhibition in the world which tells the story of Ireland’s patron saint.” The Centre is just a two hour drive north of Dublin and about half an hour from Belfast. For details, visit saintpatrickcentre.com
The Centre has an interpretive exhibit, art gallery, restaurant and an excellent craft and gift shop with unusual Irish-made gifts. The Centre also has an extensive outreach program – Friends of St. Patrick – with chapters all over, including Pittsburgh and Milwaukee among others in the U.S.
ST. PATRICK’S TRAIL
Northern Ireland is such a beautiful and friendly land and any time of year is a good time to travel there and follow St. Patrick’s Trail.
If you start in Armagh, you can follow a 92-mile signposted driving route all the way to Bangor. There are many places of interest along the way such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Armagh County Museum and public library the Cistercian Monestary (Bagenal’s Castle) in Newry and other attractions nearby including the Dromore High Cross and Cathedral; Bangor Abbey and North Down Museum in Bangor and St. Patrick’s Trian Visitor Centre that has three major exhibits including The Land of Lilliput, based on Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
To learn more, visit: discovernorthernireland.com
ST. PATRICK’S FESTIVAL
Yes, this will indeed be a very different March 17 here and in Ireland because of Covid-19. The annual St. Patrick’s festivities from Ireland will be virtual this year and can be accessed from your living room.
As Ireland battles the coronavirus, the national St. Patrick's Day Festival 2021 has moved online bringing color, culture and pageantry into homes around the world over six days and nights.
The St. Patrick’s Festival this year will be presented through SPF TV, a St. Patrick’s Festival TV Channel, at www.stpatricksfestival.ie, and will be accessible everywhere around the world.
Assorted events, created by artists, musicians, performers, arts and live event workers, as well as community organizations across Ireland, will be on SPF TV over six days and nights. Through SPF TV, you can experience music, theatre, art, performance, poetry, storytelling, traditional arts, tours, street, and building lighting, art installations and more.
Details on St. Patrick’s Festival 2021, SPF TV, and RTÉ/SPF Virtual Parade will be announced soon. Sign up for news and updates at www.stpatricksfestival.ie and follow St. Patrick's Festival on social media via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
There was a day when St. Patrick’s observances in the U.S. far out-celebrated anything the staid Irish did on that special day. In Ireland, March 17 was primarily a family day that included church, lunch with the family in a local hotel or pub and then home. The most obvious display of Irishness we saw in Ireland when we were there on March 17 was a live shamrock pinned to a coat. The only “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons and emerald green garb were worn by tourists.
But that was then and this is now. Things could very well have changed as the world has changed.
If you are lucky enough to be in Ireland in March, you will no doubt find many Covid-free and safe ways to celebrate the saint and his annual day.
Sadly, the wonderful Connemara April/May walking festivals in beautiful Leenane, Co. Galway, at the head of Killary Harbor, have been cancelled this year because of Covid.
At a past event during that festival, there was a fascinating Herb Walk along the Famine Trail presented by a Galway GP & herbalist, who pointed out what grows along the roadside and what herbs people used during the famine to survive.
As with events elsewhere during this Covid crisis, all community activities normally conducted in the Leenane area have been deferred until further notice.
And, the Leenane community has urged older people - and others who are vulnerable - to heed the advice of the Government and reduce social contact. The community has also asked people who are well to please telephone older or vulnerable neighbors and collect groceries, fuel, medicines, etc. to limit their need to go out and also stay in touch with those who are self-isolating and arrange to drop supplies at their door.
There are many older, single people who live in isolation in the hills around Leenane and it’s so nice to know that the community is looking out for them. Services such as Meals on Wheels and other essential community services will continue to be provided and the website said arrangements can be made to have meals dropped at the door if the person is self-isolating or doesn’t want to risk contact with others.
Alone, an organization for older people, also has a COVID-19 helpline that people can call from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with any concerns.
When we’re able to travel again and you’re in Leenane, be sure to stop by the Sheep and Wool Museum. It’s an interesting place that with an excellent gift shop and homemade luncheon fare like quiche, soups and yummy desserts.
For more information, visit leenanevillage.com
We saw a photo on Facebook in mid-February showing blooms starting to burst forth on trees and bushes in an Irish garden. A friend of the woman who posted the photo, said Snowdrops were blooming in his yard too. Ireland’s spring is ahead of ours here in New England and April and May are such a perfect time to visit.
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go and don’t forget to check with your travel agent or check the internet for the very best travel specials. Tourism Ireland’s website – discoverireland.com – is a great source of information for travelers and many details about different areas and activities, festivals and more.
When you’re in Ireland, be sure to stop by the Failte Ireland tourist board offices (marked with a big green shamrock) for the latest happenings, to secure accommodation and learn about the area where you’ll be traveling.
Check out the Aer Lingus website and other international carriers too for air and ground deals. And, have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day wherever you choose to celebrate.