The Irish love a good story. They are a lyric, storytelling people. Their storytelling tradition is full of the improbable, impossible and likely not quite so. So although I appreciate those whose commitment to veracity in historical matters leads them to be St. Paddy’s Day debunkers each year, I feel they miss the point of the story of Padraig and the Snakes: it’s a good story. What makes it even better is that in true Irish fashion, the story continues and evolves. The snakes survived.
I loathe snakes, the clammy legless creatures, yet this morning I woke up and drew a spiraled one on my distaff hand to represent the Irish blood in my maternal family. I am descended from the McGinnis (MagAonghusa) clan, which reaches back centuries into Ireland and Scotland’s history. My clan fought with O’Neill in the Nine Years War and brew some of the best beer in the world. True, that was all done by distant ancestors and even more distant cousins, but I’m still connected to those deeds and to the soft green grass and fine soft mist by the blood running in my veins. Not only am I of Ireland, I’m an Irish “snake”.
I am enchanted with the very mythic, very celebratory idea of celebrating not only my heritage today, but also the triumph of the snakes in the myth of Patrick. Paganism was never vanquished but lay in hibernation, quiet and still, until it could spring forth like sweet-smelling roses. To be sure the myth of Patrick and the Snakes isn’t old or true, so why not continue the narrative in true storyteller fashion?
Today I embrace Pride in both my ancestors and in my faith. I am so proud of my community, my vibrant people, shining multi-colored under the waxing spring sunshine. I will wear my snake, coiled on my hand as if sunning itself, with pride, and perhaps lift a pint to those who came before if I can find a stool inside my local pub. We were outlawed, shunned and hunted once, yet we survived in the wind, the sun, the soil and in the fierceness of our tenacious DNA, surviving generation after generation. Irish music and magic survived in the hills and hollers of my Appalachian home both literally and mythically. For me, that’s a point of pride. The Snakes survive!
Here is a blessing from Erynn Rowan Laurie’s A Circle of Stones for today:
And may Lugh kind-white, strong-white, red-white
Preserve thee, protect thee, provide for thee,
With the might of his hand, with the point of his spear,
Under the shade of his shimmering shield.