NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There are a lot of St. Patrick's Day haters out there. Many are even Irish.
The holiday is routinely derided as a knockoff Mardi Gras, an amateur drunk's festival or even plain old American. It's environmentally dicey: Chicago dumps in orange dye to color its river green. Or it's that most un-Irish of things: royalist. (Disclosure: by this logic I am also tied up with royalists, in that my younger sister was queen of a St. Patrick's Day parade -- making me possibly a dethroned monarch. But I digress.)
In short, you might grouse, St. Patrick's Day is just not Irish.
But St. Patrick himself couldn't object to that statement. You see, he was not Irish either. He was an immigrant to the Emerald Isle.
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Now, anything more than that about him is difficult to say with any certainty. Was he Scottish? (The Catholic Church says yes.) Or was he English? (Another Church source says maybe.) Or was he a Roman? Well, probably -- but he was a Roman in the cultural sense. Or was he actually Italian? And did he live in the fourth or fifth century?
Nobody knows. And nobody ever will.
But St. Patrick's Day is Irish in a similar sense: it's cosmopolitan, it's inclusive and it's built on blarney.
And that's fitting. Perhaps the most famous Irish people were either born or died elsewhere, or both: St. Patrick himself (born Scotland or maybe England). Eamon De Valera, Irish revolutionary, founding father and later president of the Republic of Ireland (half Cuban, born in New York). The hero of Darby O'Gill and the Little People, played by Sean Connery (of course, Scottish). Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde (all died in France). Bram Stoker and George Bernard Shaw (both died in Britain). James Joyce (an exile who died in Switzerland). John F. Kennedy and Frank McCourt (both American). The Beatles ("Irish invasion"?). Even Shane MacGowan, voice of the Irish band par excellence the Pogues, was born and lived much of his life in London.
Now St. Patrick himself has a lot of tales that have been told about him. He was captured by pirates and arrived in Ireland a slave, according to his Confession. He was a convert to Christianity. He returned to Ireland a missionary, where he drove out the snakes. No, wait, he drove the Druids out of Ireland! He got the sun-worshipping Irish to go along with Christianity by putting the sun right into the Celtic cross. He used the shamrock as a metaphor for the Catholic trinity. And so on.
No matter which of these stories is true -- and some probably aren't -- he's still the patron saint of Ireland and beloved by the Irish people, who love a good heart and a meaningful story.