Never forget the actual St Patrick


St Patrick stained glass window from St Thomas Aquinas Church, Brooklyn, New York.

Éirinn go Brách
We say all these brave and cheerful things today:
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! And Éirinn go Brách,
Ireland forever! And you wear your green necktie
Which you never wear the rest of the year, and we
Do actually stop and think about old Ireland, once
Or twice, remembering a grandfather, or Maureen
O’Hara, or Samuel Beckett’s seamed-granite face;
But right now, all together, for a long moment, out
Of real love and reverence for a place and a people,
Let us think about the adamant courage of the Irish,
Enslaved for centuries, forbidden their own tongue,
Forbidden their religion, their own rich moist land,
Forbidden to teach their own children in ways they
Thought right and proper. But the enslaving empire
Could not kill their imagination, their laughter, their
Love affair with literature, their wild joyous music;
The empire could not quell their spirit, their defiant
Grace and endurance; and they ejected the invaders
At last, and built their own country, and millions of
The children of wild green Ireland sailed across the
World, and helped spark other brave free countries,
Among them the very one in which we stand. Don’t
Forget the real Ireland: not today, of all days. Never
Forget the actual Saint Patrick, his courage, his lack
Of bitterness, his life teaching the miraculous Word.
Sing today, yes! Sing with all your heart; but do sing
A courage that could not be crushed, an imagination
That could not be imprisoned, a song sung anywhere
Free people insist on telling their own wild holy tales.
Your Theatrical Training
Most of what we learn when we are young is how to get by,
How to cruise, how to accomplish the required and not a jot
Or tittle more, how to fake it in every way, shape, and form,
How to pretend or hint toward interest while not being at all
Interested, how to seem to do one thing while doing another,
How to wear a mask, how to wear a mask under the mask in
Case of emergencies, how to say something you don’t mean;
And this is not to even get into learning to smile and sneer at
Once, how to be present and absent, how to appear absorbed
While being the definition of unattached and inattentive. We
Learn such fakery, to be blunt. Why is that? We learn acting.
We are so gracefully false that a professional training is only
Returning consciously to adolescence, when you were seven
People at once, none of them speaking honestly to the others.
Do we ever really grow up? We inhabit so many selves. One
Role leads to another leads to eight more, and then cocktails.
Perhaps when we feel most unmoored we are most honest. It
Comes as a shock, being a rare thing. Unnerving and rattling.
You would do without it if you could. Maybe what we desire
When we talk about love is someone who cannot bear masks,
Theirs or ours. But are there such souls? Probably not. Some
People can get most of their masks off, though, and get down
To only two or three, and somehow the fact that they remove
Theirs gives you the awful urge to pry your own off. Careful;
That’s best done in the dark, as we are all afraid of the mirror.
On All Souls Day
All my life, when I thought about death coming for me,
I wondered how he would come, and what costumes he
Would wear (cancer coat? stroke suits?), and if I would
Be a weenie, whining all the way to the end, or die wry,
Smiling a bit and offering dry and entertaining remarks,
But now I think I know myself well enough to know I’ll
Be seriously interested in the whole thing. Can you chat
With death, is that possible? Can you, you know, natter?
I am not kidding. Every death is a whole new way to die.
My stroke will be unlike Robert Louis Stevenson’s – not
Just because he was younger or in Samoa or a lot thinner,
But because I am made of love and song and amusement
In ways he was not and could not know. My death is new
Country not just for me but for my death. I feel a passing
Empathy for my death – it only gets the one shot at doing
What it is designed to do. We are weirdly sort of partners.
The poor bedraggled thing, waiting all these dozing years!
I suppose I used to wonder if you could dicker and outwit
Your death, but now only wish I will have a chance to dig
It, you know what I mean? I don’t mean this in a macabre
Way. It’s more like your death is a part of your life, right?
I don’t want to live companionably with it for a long time,
But it will be absorbing to get to know it a little before we
Wander off into the wilderness. As soon as I die my death
Does too, but who knows what happens to who I was? It’s
Like this: I might get a whole new gig, as an otter or a bee,
Or a glowering angel assigned to protect a Uruguayan boy,
But old death expires like a yellowed coupon you discover
In a coat you last wore to church to pray, on All Souls Day.

Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle is the author most recently of A Book of Uncommon Prayer (Ave Maria Press).

St Patrick stained glass window from St Thomas Aquinas Church, Brooklyn, New York.

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, modern poetry, St Patrick, Ireland



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Existing comments

Happy St Patrick's Day Brian. Hope you like Emily Dickinson: 'Tis not that Dying hurts us so -/ 'Tis Living - hurts us more -/But Dying - is a different way -/A Kind behind the Door -

Pam | 16 March 2015  

It's my day off and I'm going to the Bentleigh Club to celebrate the Green Day. Will be taking your Patrick poem with me, Brian, and reading it out on the strongest microphone I can find, with pride and passion and joy. Thank you!

Fiona Dodds | 17 March 2015  

Thank you Brian. I'm keeping all three for a while to read again and perhaps again. M.

Mahdi | 17 March 2015  

Happy St Patrick's Day, Irish cousins, from a Welsh person. You do know St Patrick was a Welshman, of course!

Joan Seymour | 17 March 2015  

Very good! I was halfway through the first one before I realised it was poetry.

Gavan | 17 March 2015  

Vive La France Joan A NEW book on the life of Ireland's patron saint is set to cause consternation with its claims that St Patrick was in fact French -- and not British. Rediscovering Saint Patrick: A New Theory of Origins sets out to answer the question of whether came from Britain or Brittany. Four years of historical sleuthing has convinced Co Wicklow- based Church of Ireland clergyman Rev Marcus Losack that it was the latter. On a visit to Chateau de Bonaban near St Malo in Brittany, he learned that the site on which the chateau was built contained remains dating from the Roman era. Local tradition claims that the first building on the site belonged to St Patrick's father, Calpurnius, a Scottish noble who settled there to avoid Saxon forces who were invading Britain. "At that time, this place was called Bonavenna de Tiberio. I was dumbfounded. "In 'St Patrick's Confession' he told us he was taken captive when Irish pirates attacked his father's house at 'Bannavem Tiburniae' ' in Latin," Rev Losack said.

Father John George | 17 March 2015  

Thank you Brian, I remember the sad and happy stories my grandmother told me about her homeland in Ireland as she cried. She made me promise to go there and I did. It was wonderful. I celebrate my ancestry with pride.

Cate | 18 March 2015  

Father John George seems aghast, or maybe amused, that St Patrick may have been born in France. Or at least whatever that bit of France was called at the time. But what about the thesis that there may have been two, three or even four St Patricks? Were they all born on the Continent? Hagiographers ask awkward questions about official Lives, not least the writings of St Patrick. While there was probably one main man who took on Tara and had other mighty works attributed to his name, the final set of legends of the ‘actual’ (as Brian Doyle puts it) St Patrick are most likely a compendium of the works of more than one Patrick. The real significance of his birthplace may have less to do with its geography than its religious connections, now lost until a new scholar comes up with a solution. We have no idea how many Brigids were Brigid, but the third patron of Ireland was almost certainly the one and only Columcille, even if his legends are the cause of ongoing confusion about their internal contradictions.

Celtic Knot | 18 March 2015  

Cate my great grandmother Marion was from Co. Mayo and her husband Tom Gregson was a son of a Protestant Lord in Donegal. He Converted and married her in Melbourne [losing all inheritance]. I was taught by most edifying Irish Patrician Brothers,[FSP] who coopted a Miss Deegan elocutionist, lest we spoke with Irish brogue,when later seeking employment from prot bosses, though our class of 80 plus had numerous Lebanese and post war refugees. However, whatever ethnicity we took Patrick at confirmation or else! St Patrick drove all snakes from Ireland[despite imports in zoos]. Furthermore, earlier ice age discouraged earlier snakes slithering through freezing seas from Britain to Eire. But snakes symbolised paganism that St Patrick banned![pace Brother DeSales FSP]. No matter matter! Saint Patrick was our prototype and patron and still is for me a latter day soggarth aroon[gaelic term of endearment for hunted priests under Elizabeth 1; the former oft hidden in cow shed from priest hunters. Alternatively, soggarths said mass on a raft-people kneeling on the beach as Mass, was later forbidden on Irish soil! Hail Glorious Saint Patrick!!

Father John George | 18 March 2015  

Thank you Brian. I found this article touching and uplifting confronting so many issues especially death.

Margot Hains | 23 March 2015  

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