I want to get away from all the noise and nonsense that’s come to surround St. Patrick’s Day, the once reverent, if myth-filled, holy day turned raucous global celebration.
So here’s a reminder of a simpler St. Patrick’s Day, a 1953 letter from a sister in Kerry, Ireland to her brother in Pittsburgh, USA. It’s from a collection of letters I inherited from my aunt a few years ago. A few other letters from the 1950s also included sprigs of shamrock from the north Kerry countryside.
Keep in mind that 1953 was seven years before the election of John F. Kennedy as president (a decade before his return to Ireland and assassination later the same year), and nine years before Chicago began to dye its river green. While the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin dates to 1931, it was nothing like today’s massive multi-day festivals.
My wife and I were diverted to Charlotte, North Carolina on our flight from Tampa, Florida to Washington, D.C., where snow and ice closed the airport. As we settled into a hotel room near the Charlotte airport Saturday night, I began looking for a place to attend Mass on the First Sunday of Lent. The Cathedral of St. Patrick, mother church of the dioceses of Charlotte, was less than five miles away.
Stained glass window of St. Patrick.
Construction of the church began on St. Patrick’s Day, 1938, according to the church’s website, and it was consecrated in September 1939. Charlotte native John Henry Phelan, who made his fortune as a grocery wholesaler and oil producer in Beaumont, Texas, donated money to build the church in memory of his parents, Patrick and Margaret Adele Phelan. I didn’t find any family connections to Ireland in any of the online biographies, or why the church was named for Ireland’s patron saint.
Here are a few images from the church, including the stained glass image of St. Patrick behind the altar. It was a lovely High Mass, succor for not getting home as planned. In a few weeks the city will host its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Charlotte Goes Green Festival.
Mark Holan’s Irish-American Blog has relocated to metro Washington, D.C.
I am living about five miles west of the Irish Embassy in the Virginia Square section of Arlington, Va. St. Patrick Catholic Church is less than seven miles to the east. Both places are within easy walking distance of the Orange line Metro stops. (More of a hike from Green line stations.)
My condo is about halfway between Ireland’s Four Courts and Ireland’s Four Provinces. Both pubs are sponsoring fundraising events to support Washington, D.C.’s 43rd Annual St. Patrick’s Parade on March 16.
I have joined Irish Network DC and look forward to making new friends in the Irish-American community here while exploring the many contributions that Ireland’s sons and daughters have made to America.
I’ve written earlier of Tim McDonnell’s efforts to start a food collection to help feed the hungry in Tampa through the Salvation Army in the spirit of St. Patrick. It’s been quite an accomplishment for the former executive director of Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center since he arrived in Tampa about two years ago.
Tim just got back from his third trip to Ireland/Northern Ireland at the beginning of October. (His mom is from Brownstown, Co Kildare; his paternal grandparents from Westport, Co. Mayo and Bruree, Co. Limerick.) Below is Part 1 of Tim’s guest post:
The Spirit of St. Patrick
Absolutely worth visiting is the St. Patrick’s Trail and all of the St. Patrick sites on the northern half of the island (where St. Patrick spent his time). The top 3 ‘must do’ sites, though, are: 1) the St. Patrick Centre exhibition and his grave in Downpatrick (he is buried alongside St. Brigid, St. Columcille, and Arthur Guinness’ grandfather – truly ‘holy ground’! – next to Down Cathedral); 2) St. Patrick’s first church at Saul – one of the more spiritually engaging sites on earth, comparable to the experience we had at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sisteen Chapel in Vatican City (as my friend Tim Campbell says “Saul is very ‘thin’…..the distance between heaven and earth there is very slight”); 3) Croagh Patrick – we lucked out with clear skies and were able to climb Ireland’s holy mountain, where St. Patrick fasted for 40 days and 40 nights and by legend ‘drove the snakes out of Ireland.’ It will take a bit of faith and endurance to get all the way up, particularly at the top with the loose rocks and vertical climb – but it is the most spiritually rewarding thing that I have ever done, and it also blesses all climbers with the best views on the island.
The view from the summit.
Also worth visiting is Ulster Scots country up in the northeast. People of this heritage informed us that they believe that Northern Ireland is a Scottish province on the island of Ireland and that calling the Ulster Scots Irish is like calling Canadians Americans. They also told us that the inhabitants of Ireland were referred to by the Romans as the “Scoti” in the 4th and 5th centuries and were known to be part of the Gaelic kingdom of Dal Riata, which spanned the west coast of Scotland and the eastern part of Ulster in what is today’s Northern Ireland. They characterized the creation of the Ulster Plantation of the 17th century, which helped lay the foundation for a few hundred years of conflict, as ‘just the Scots returning home.’ Interesting stuff and worth a bit of homework. Although the history, cultural dynamics, and politics are a bit complicated, the north is breathtakingly beautiful, and the people are as welcoming as anywhere else on the island.
Check back within the week for Tim’s thoughts on food in Ireland and a story of the country’s most famous jockey. MH