May You Die In Ireland

By Michael John Geraghty

“St. Patrick was a gentleman who came from decent people”, sings Christy Moore, the legendary Irish balladeer and song writer, “he built a church in Dublin town and put it on a steeple.” “His father was a Gallagher, his mother was a Grady” continues Moore who is better informed than most about the legendary saint who is certainly a legend but may never have been a saint.

In actual fact, no one really knows where Patrick came from, who he was, or if he even ever existed. To make matters worse some modern scholars even go as far as to say there were two, three, four, or even more St. Patricks, that none of them brought Christianity to Ireland because it was already there when they arrived, and that the image of the great Irish apostle was invented by the Celtic church as part of its propaganda campaign in the dispute - about the date of Easter and the shape of the tonsure – with the Church of Rome that ended at the 7th century Synod of Whitby.

To make matters worse still, most of what is said about Patrick is simply not true. The yarn explaining with a three-leaved clover the most holy and undivided Trinity, one of Christian theology’s most profound mysteries, is a bit too much even for the Irish who are famous for their tall tales. The two books and famous prayer Patrick is said to have written were penned by someone else and so it should come as no surprise to know that the snakes he banished from Ireland were never there in the first place, we Irish are a hot-blooded people and snakes would have no business amongst us. Nevertheless, we do know that the mighty man who may never have existed is buried at Downpatrick Cathedral in Ireland’s lovely county Down and that that cathedral in the course of history abandoned the Church of Rome and went over to the reforming protesters.

Yet Patrick is one of the world’s most popular saints and getting more popular by the day all over the world not only with the Irish and their descendants but also with the hosts of others who become Irish for at least one day in the year, today, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.  The 17th of March was chosen because some say it was Patrick’s birthday, others say it was his death day, others say it was both, and according to  “The Birth of St. Patrick,” by Samuel Lover, the 19th century Dublin-born writer and painter, the 17th was chosen to stop a fight between a group of boys who said Patrick was born on the 8th and another group who said it was the 9th:



 Says Fr. Mulcahy,

 Boys, don’t be fighting for eight or for nine,

 Combine the two

 and seventeen is the time,

 So, let that be his birthday?



 said the lads and

 Then they all got blind drunk,

 Which completed their bliss,

 And we keep up the practice

 From that day to this!”

No matter why the 17th of March was chosen, it is the day for the wearing of the green in your clothes, on your face, in your hair, on your fingernails, in your ears, on your lips, and on anywhere else your fancy takes you.  It is also a day for the drinking of the green as pubs and bars all over the world dye their beverages and Paddy’s boisterous lads and lassies  cannot get enough of it.

The day will start with parades and finish with parties everywhere and it is only right, because St. Patrick’s Day began not in Ireland but in Boston in 1737, that the biggest parade of them all will be New York’s 242nd St. Patrick's Day Parade, up 5th Avenue from 86th to 44th streets, to the music of bagpipes and high school bands. Grand Marshall James G. O’Connor and a host of politicians and presbyters will follow the 165th Infantry (originally the glorious 69th Regiment of the 1850's), the Ancient Order of Hibernians, 30 Irish county societies, clan by clan, Irish nationalist societies, and nearly 150,000 others proudly wearing the green, as millions gawk along the parade route or watch on TV a wonderful spectacle of Irish pageantry. This year’s parade will stop at the reviewing stand at 5th Avenue and 64th Street for New York's Edward Cardinal Egan to pray for a peaceful solution to the conflict with Iraq. Everyone who is anyone will be in that parade except, of course, the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization. The Mayor of New York, Michael R. Bloomberg, will march too, although he has publicly voiced his disapproval of the banning of the Irish homosexuals who are not allowed to march “because their lives do not conform to Catholic teaching.” Wow!

Over in the White House, which was actually designed by an Irishman, US President George W. Bush, one of America’s 18 presidents of Irish descent, already drowned the shamrock a little early this year on Thursday,  March 13,  at the US President’s annual party for Ireland’s Taoiseach or Prime Minister, the only politician in the world who is guaranteed a yearly meeting with the US President. It may all sound like a bit of a joke but it is not.  The Irish-American lobby has tremendous political and corporate clout and with William Jefferson Clinton it did more than anyone else to prepare the way for peace in the six counties of Northern Ireland.  This year Taoiseach Bartholomew “Bertie” Ahern told George W. Bush that the best way forward in the conflict in the Middle East is through the United Nations, which was, Ahern insisted, set up precisely for this kind of stand off. 

 Most of Ahern’s cabinet also travels abroad for St. Patrick’s Day to promote Ireland and although this year none of them will travel to Argentina where some half a million Argentines claim Irish descent, St. Patrick’s Day will be well and truly celebrated here.  Celebrations start at the metropolitan cathedral where the Irish Argentine Federation will pay homage to General José de San Martin, the Liberator, and then homage will be paid to Admiral William Brown at his monument nearby. One of the Argentine Navy bands will be present to play the Argentine and Irish national anthems, and St. Patricks’s Day in the morning,’ one of their insignia tunes, which the intrepid Brown is said to have ordered his drummers to play every time he sailed into battle, although by all accounts the Mayo man was more concerned with guns than drums on battle day.

 After all the honors are rendered and the music has died away it is open season for the revelers.  The wise go home, the more mature and not so mature head to the American Club which has been putting on a St. Patrick’s Day do for as far back as I can remember. The craic, as the Irish call fun, really starts later on in the evening around the many Irish pubs that have sprung up in the city and environs over the last 30 years with Argentina’s only Irish-born publican, Cork-born Jack Murphy, very much to the fore with his aptly named Shamrock Pub where it is St. Patrick’s Day every day. It will be next to impossible to get into any of these havens of modern holiness as they fill to the brim with worshippers of the man who may never have existed and who started it all so many years ago in the Ireland he was abducted into as a slave, escaped from, and thence could not sleep at nights from the noise the pagan Irish were making in his head calling him back to save them from sin and Satan.  Patrick stood up to be counted and the rest, as the fella said, is history.  He was, after all, no matter how little we know about him, “a gentleman who came from decent people.”


“Sláinte agus saol agaibh, agus bas in Eireann,” or in English: “health and life to you, and may you die in Ireland.”


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Copyright © The Irish Argentine Historical Society. 2004