Happy St.Patricks Day.
Its a day that means different things to different people all over the world. This in itself is extraordinary that a simple national saints day has come to be celebrated in most of the biggest cities worldwide. Every year more and more famous landmarks are up lit in green and St.Patricks day revellers take to the street to see parades and enjoy ” the craic agus ceol” as we call it ( which for any of our non Irish readers means fun, banter and music.)You’ll read about all these various celebrations in every newspaper and see all the parades on TV but these are my memories and experiences of this special day. We’re lucky enough to live in Slane village and the view in front of our house is the beautiful Slane Abbey. Although its up lit all year around this year for the first time its gone green. On a foggy night this lends an eerie air to the skyline.
I grew up about 20 miles from Slane yet we came here many times a year as children and I have many good memories of playing amongst the ruins of Slane Abbey. I would stand in front of the bell tower and gaze upwards to make myself dizzy then we would run around the ruins of the old college standing in cavernous fireplaces and look up at the sky. We would climb the bell tower ,the only light coming from a slit window halfway up and cling to the sides or the step above us in the winding stone spiral stairs until we got to the top. We would emerge blinking from the dark to the sunlight and gaze at the view. “You can see the whole country from up here ” my father would declare and on a clear day it certainly seemed as if you could.
Years later when I had my own child we were lucky enough to move to Slane and have a view of my childhood haunt. I repeated the tradition of visiting the hill and playing amongst its ruins with him. There’s a fine statue of the man himself surveying the countryside which we would stop to admire.
We would hide Sean’s Peter rabbit and play hide and seek between the Church and the college. At Easter we hid tiny chocolate eggs in the many nooks and crevices in the broken walls and Sean and his pals would have their very own Easter egg hunt. We also made a game out of trying to find the many interesting features almost hidden in the stone walls.
There was the dragon, the watchful gargoyle, the shielded arm and a rosette. We don’t know the story behind them so we often just made one up. One such mark was one we thought of as the stone masons mark. I read about it first in the wonderful Ken Follett book “the pillars of the earth.” It mentions that a stone mason would often leave an image carved in stone sometimes even resembling his boss and hide the carving under where the large beams would go for the upper floor. I like to think the one above with my finger is one such mark. When we found them we’d stand briefly to admire and hear a little of the history then it was off again to play hide and seek in the old refectory, climb the stone steps or peer inside a chimney.
The Hill of Slane is closely associated with St.Patrick as he was said to have lit the Paschal fire here during the Spring Equinox. Tradition had it that no fire was to be lit during the pagan festival held on the nearby Hill Of Tara by the High King Loaghaire. However St.Patrick is said to have lit the fire of the true faith bringing Christianity to Ireland. The legend my father always told us is that King Laoghaire dispatched his troops to Slane to arrest St.Patrick just as he was making his way to Tara to convert the people. On meeting the troops he turned into a deer and walked past them and approached the Hill. Again legend has it that Laoighre would not convert but many of his followers did including one St.Erc who St.Patrick made first Bishop of Slane and whose grave is said to be in the cemetery of the Hill of Slane.
Last but not least in our family St.Patricks Day was always extra special as it was my mothers birthday. My very early memories were of going to mass with bunches of green shamrocks pinned to my parents coats and loud and gaudy St.Patricks day badges for us kids with the harp and tricolour featuring heavily. Sometimes we would go to the parade in Dublin where floats of all shapes and sizes would go by followed by marching bands from America no less, who would all brave the inevitable freezing rain to march and twirl their batons high in the air. We would make my mothers birthday cake, a sponge decorated in the gaudiest green butter icing you ever saw and I would head to bed feeling in awe that all these celebrations were held in honour of my Mothers birthday.
My Grandparents had lived in New York and married there in November 1916 and recently I uncovered a book of postcards sent to them during their 14 or so years living there. There were Valentines, Easter Cards a few Christmas cards and these St.Patricks Day cards all dating from 1907-1919.