Apropos of nothing in particular, but it’s the kind of thing I’ve been working on since the election (a period of intellectual recreation before the hard work ahead), so I figured I’d share. Hope it amuses …
Everybody thinks that my ancestors the Irish are, along with the Italians and the Spanish, the most Catholic people in Europe. I’m starting to wonder. I’ve been researching a lot lately (the whole “getting in touch with one’s ancient roots” thing), and last night I had a moment of Zen reading this article about the oddly-named “pattern days.” First time I heard of them, I thought “oh you whacky, Jesus-smitten Micks, any excuse to worship some 3rd-rate Saint.” Then I read this article and discovered that “pattern” was a slur of “patrun,” which was a slur of “patron,” as in patron “saint” of a particular place. Those places turned out to be the same wells, lakes, and high places (especially giant burial mounds, the “hollow hills” of folklore) that the people visited and celebrated in the pre-Christian days. And it hit me like a revelation: oh, you clever Irish bastards! You subverted Mother Church and held onto your old traditions, while simultaneously avoiding nasty things like The Inquisition! A wink and a nod to the local cleric (who probably joined in the celebrations, since he was usually a local boy) and the archbishop back in Dublin is none the wiser. Brilliant!
The description of a “pattern day” festival from the early 1800s really brings home the joyous, community feel, and gives some vague sense of what wonderful things the original festivals must have been back in the day. I wonder if we didn’t lose something important when we lost these kinds of happy, communitarian celebrations.
cf also the intriguing and suspicious “Order of Bridget” in Kildaire who kept “Saint” Brigit’s sacred fire burning for centuries. What kind of freaking Christian Saint has sacred fires in her honor?