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Stories for Saint Patricks Day

By on March 17, 2017

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh–Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! 

Ireland has been one of my great loves since I was a teenager. I first fell in love with the music through one of those “Celtic” albums you used to find at those kiosks with all the push-button previews, mixed in with things like “relaxing ocean/piano/native flute” compilations (do these kiosks still exist??). This one featured music composed by the Irish harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738). I listened to that CD so much I’ve had to replace it more than once.

Ireland is also a part of my family history, though I never really knew how much until recent years. My mother and I are genealogy hobbyists, and so thanks to a lot of hours on Ancestry, we’ve discovered more than a few Irish immigrants in the tree. We have ancestors from Cork, Dublin, a little town called Bellanagall in County Monaghan, Armagh, Belfast, Down, and there are still a couple of families we’ve yet to discover the exact counties they emigrated from.

But what I love most about Ireland are the stories that come from this “Land of Saints and Scholars.” And so, to celebrate the day, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Irish stories with you.

Philadelphia, Here I Come!

I saw this play performed by the Galway Youth Theatre in the summer of 2007 when I was studying in the city. Written by Brian Friel, the play is about a young man wrestling with his decision to emigrate from Ireland to America in the 1960s, while attempting to connect with his emotionally distant father, before it’s too late. The most fascinating part is the main character exists in two personas–a private and public, with two different actors. It’s touching and funny, and if you can’t find a performance of it, you can read it. Here’s the book’s listing on Goodreads.

Translations

Also by Brian Friel, and I’m sad to say I haven’t seen this one performed yet! Interesting fact: Liam Neeson played a character in the original run of this in the 1980s, I believe. You can see a photo of him from the play here. This play is set in the same fictional town as the one in Philadelphia, Here I Come!, but centers around a hedge school in the 1830s. It’s about the British coming in to map out Ireland, while renaming and anglicizing place names, stripping the Irish language away, which meant so much more than relearning place names they’ve grown up knowing. As the Irish Times article I linked to above stated, Translations is about “colonialism and cultural erosion.” Here’s the Goodreads listing for this one.

The Secret of Kells

This is a beautiful animated film that came out in 2009, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2010 (which is how I came to hear of it). It’s about the creation of the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript that’s over 1200 years old. The story centers around a little monk named Brendan, in a time when Ireland was being raided by Vikings (called Northmen in the film). Brendan wants to watch and study the monks and their illuminating, while his uncle, the abbot, would rather him do the work of building the wall around Kells in a desperate effort to keep them safe from attack. Meanwhile, Brendan meets a mysterious fairy named Aisling as he ventures out into the forest to find berries for ink, where he discovers life and “miracles” outside the walls of Kells. Everything about this movie is precious and beautiful. Check out its IMDB page here.

Into the West

Another children’s film, released in 1992 and directed by Mike Newell, stars Gabriel Byrne, Colm Meaney, and Brendan Gleeson (who also voiced the abbot in The Secret of Kells). It’s about two young brothers who are given a mysterious horse, called Tír na nÓg, and try to keep it in their tiny Dublin apartment. When the horse is discovered and is taken from them, they set out to rescue it and run away. They head to the “wild west” of Ireland, pretending they’re American cowboys. But it’s the story of the man who’s chasing them that I love the most–their broken father, played by Gabriel Byrne, a widower who was once a part of a people group in Ireland known as Travellers. Desperate to find his sons, he begins to reconnect with his past along the way, and finds himself as well. Here’s the IMDB listing.

Brilliant

This is my most recent favorite, a middle-grade children’s book by Irish author Roddy Doyle. (Side note, you should totally follow him on Facebook.) I came across it in my library this summer. It’s about “The Black Dog of Depression” that comes to Dublin, and all of the adults are stricken by it. A brother and sister, along with the rest of the children of Dublin set out to save their parents, aunts, uncles, etc., by stopping the dog and chasing it out of of the city. Their only defense–the simple but powerful word, “brilliant.” This little book stole my heart in one sitting. The dialogue is amazing, the book itself, with it’s illustrations, is beautiful, and it’s a very clever, touching, and oh-so-important story. Find Brilliant on Goodreads.

There you go, five off the top of my head. But as a bonus, since it’s also Saint Gertrude’s Day (the patron saint of cats), here’s a poem I love, written by an anonymous Irish monk in the 9th century, about his beloved cat, Pangur Bán.

The Scholar and His Cat

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

(source)

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