St Patrick's Day

By Don Jackson, March 17 2013
Former host of one of Canada’s most popular radio shows spanning three decades.
Chicken Soup for the Soul author, broadcaster, storyteller.

"John Stuart Parnell, called the uncrowned King of Ireland, was quite terrified by the color green." 

An excerpt from 'Superstition and the Superstitious' by Eric Maple, published in 1971 by A. S. Barnes, New Jersey. ISBN: 0-498-07431-5.

Kermit the Frog would have somewhat agreed. He was once quoted as saying that it was not easy being green.

It may be safe to assume that on this side of the Atlantic, we make more of St. Patrick's Day festivities than those who live elsewhere in the world.  We drink green beer and have been known to pour pounds of green dye into bodies of water. We paint the center line of some main streets green for parades to commemorate the feast in honor of "the triple bearer of the triple key", as Nigel Pennick said in 'The Pagan Book of Days' published in 1992 by Destiny Books, Vermont. ISBN: 0-89281-369-5. To the north of that American state, Montreal has one of the largest parades in the world. 

As a radio announcer at FM96 in Montreal from the late 1970's through 1989, I was invited to ride on floats in a few parades.  When FM96 upgraded the station's studio facilities, the station organized a small parade and featured all the announcers on a float that wound its way through the city streets to the newly upgraded studio.

On another occasion, I was invited to be one of the judges of the parade.  The role required all of us judges to watch the parade attentively as it passed our location.  While on the platform surrounded with fellow judges consisting of various celebrities and local officials, we shared in the pre-excitement of the day, unaware of who we would subsequently be sharing the stage with.

Just before the parade was about to begin, a limousine pulled up to the front of the judging platform.  Security personnel exited the vehicle and held the door open for the last judge who emerged from the rear seat.  The large crowd of onlookers were pleasantly surprised by his appearance, and gave this man a hearty round of applause.  He acknowledged the welcome and mounted the steps to the platform, waving to all those who had braved the cold to watch the parade.  He walked over and took his place right beside me with his security personnel looking on and keeping a close vigil on the people lining Ste. Catherine Street.

This was my first opportunity to enjoy the company of the Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.  He had a wonderful sense of humour, and was gracious to all of us on stage with him.  Whenever I responded to one of his comments or observations, his security personnel would lean in to hear every word.  It was a little unnerving, sharing a casual conversation with the Prime Minister of Canada.

At the end of the parade, the limousine reappeared in front of the central viewing stand. The Prime Minister said his goodbyes, was escorted back into the waiting car, and was subsequently whisked away.  For a small part of that day, I'd had the pleasure of sharing some time with the most powerful man in the nation.  That St. Patrick's Day in Montreal has always remained one of my fondest memories.

Some interesting lore:

Saint Patrick's early life is shrouded in mystery. Both England and Scotland have laid claim to his birthplace. We do know that he was not born on the Emerald Isle. He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by a group of marauders and taken to Ireland where he became a shepherd. He was held there for six years, but he was finally able to escape and made his way to France. He entered the monastery of St. Martin at Auxerre and it was there that he had a revelation that he should return to the green land where he was held captive to spread the word of God. Upon his return as bishop to Ireland in 432, it is said that he performed many miracles, necessary steps on the road to eventual sainthood.

The three-leaved shamrock is closely associated with Saint Patrick even though the plant was always thought to be a defense against the spells of a witch. As it said in the 1954 Britannica Junior: "In the bogs and moors where banshees cried and fairies stole travelers' souls, a shamrock held in the peasant's hand was his protection."

Saint Patrick used it as a symbol in order to better explain the Trinity.  Legend states that he used the shamrock to drive the snakes into the ocean. It is also believed that he did not drive the snakes out of Ireland even though that is possibly one of the more familiar stories related to his life. I recently heard that the lack of serpents in that country has more to do with the lime content in the soil.

Saint Patrick's Day marks the death of the saint, not his birth. He lived until 461. 

And in green underwood and cover,
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
- Algernon Charles Swinburne

Sometimes, it's not easy being green. Other times, it is quite the opposite – like when we feel a change in the wind and receive a warm breath of spring.

Don Jackson, March 2013

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