Roisin Gorman’s Open Letter... on St Patrick
If St Patrick is the party saint, there are others who do more of the heavy lifting — St Gerard minds mums in childbirth
He’s the rock star of saints. If patron saints had a patron saint it would be St Patrick, sharing advice on how to increase their likes and shift the merch.
St David’s day was on Shrove Tuesday, but he barely got a look in among the pancakes.
Today it’s the turn of St Christina of Persia, martyred for refusing to consummate her marriage.
Yesterday it was the feast of St Fina, saint of the disabled and spinners. In the world of saints there’s a lot of multi-tasking.
St Gerard takes care of mothers, children, childbirth and the falsely accused. St Peregrine is the saint of cancer, incurable diseases and conditions of the foot.
Do any of them get a massive party, parades, rivers dyed green and the excuse to go on the lash in the middle of your Lenten campaign? They barely get a mention, while many of us are currently digging out our drinking trousers and limbering up for a St Patrick’s binge.
Like Santa, Halloween and the Kardashians, St Patrick’s Day is an American invention. Santa’s in red, we wear green, another stereotype lives to typecast us for another day.
The first St Patrick’s Day parade is claimed both by Florida in the 1600s and Boston 100 years later and the idea of a party went around the world before it came back to Ireland. The pubs used to shut on St Patrick’s Day until the 1960s, a tradition revisited during Covid, just for completely different reasons.
The popularity of the patron saint is a by-product of the Irish diaspora, a people spread across the world by persecution and hunger.
Go to the farthest corner of the world and there’ll be an Irish bar serving up an approximation of Irish culture. A terrible Greek version of an Irish coffee? Check. A Turkish barman who had more words of Irish than plenty of people I know? Check. On a recent visit to Santa Cruz in Tenerife I strolled past a statue of Jose Murphy, the father of the city and the son of two Dubs and lit a St Killian’s candle (patron saint of rheumatism) in the church behind him.
If St Patrick is the party saint, there are others who do more of the heavy lifting.
St Christopher looks after travellers and transportation and even has his own medal.
St Anthony is the big hitter, the saint petitioned on an almost daily basis when something is lost. We grew up saying prayers to St Anthony for help in finding absent possessions. He was usually mentioned before ‘where did you last have it,’ and ‘if I knew that it wouldn’t be lost.’
When we were writing my father’s death notice it was suggested we included a favourite saint and he was the first suggestion because none of us could think of another one. After some deliberation my mother sagely pointed out that St Anthony probably doesn’t read the papers.
Many Christian religions frown upon praying to saints because your supplication should be aimed at the main man, and each to their own. Catholics like to put their back into it and there are over 10,000 saints. Personally, I don’t mind asking for a bit of help from St Denis, the patron saint of headaches for some relief, although it’s usually accompanied by a couple of paracetamol.
Call it mindfulness, spirituality, reaching out, or meditation when the world is mad it does no harm to ask for a little peace.
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