St. Patrick’s Day Edition!
Check out our last ten fun facts here.
1. One of the most recent Leprechaun “sightings” was in 1989. A man named P.J. O’Hare claims he saw one and now has the clothes the wee faerie folk left behind on display in his pub in Carlingford, Co. Louth. The town even holds an annual Leprechaun hunt every year!
2. They’ve been dying the Chicago River green every Saint Patrick’s Day since 1962—but the first time was an accident! The year before the tradition began, then-mayor Richard J. Daly approved dumping some green dye in the river to help see where sewage was being dumped and fix the problem. A local named Stephen Bailey, a member of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local, realized with a little more dye they could (safely! It’s a vegetable-based dye now!) color the whole river and the tradition was born. These days, they use 40 pounds of orange powder to get that garish green hue!
3. The odds of ever finding a four-leaf clover are about 1 in 10,000. (Though check out this 2014 story about a woman who found an astonishing 21 four-leaf clovers in her yard!)
4. From 1999 to 2007, the Irish town of Dripsey claimed the title of “Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the World.” The parade route was only 26 yards long! (Nowadays Hot Springs, Arkansas has claimed the title for themselves.)
5. An estimated 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed every St. Patrick’s Day—that’s a steep increase from the more typical 5.5 million a day. (Beer sales in America alone rise 174%!)
6. Leprechauns are a protected species under EU law. A man named Kevin Woods from Carlingford (yes, the same place with the annual Leprechaun hunt!) managed to get his local Sliabh Foy Loop trail protected under the European Habitats Directive, including the 236 Leprechauns the local lobbyists claim live there!
7. The special type of marshmallows everyone loves to pick out of Lucky Charms cereal are called “marbits” and were originally just chopped up circus peanuts! (AND! The original incarnation of Lucky Charms didn’t have a sugar coating. A General Mills project manager named Paul Bunyon had to find a solution for all the excess Cherrios, so he did what any sane person would do…mixed them with candy.)
8. We’re used to thinking about the story of Irish Immigrants coming to America, but what about Australia? In 2010, the Sydney Opera House went green to celebrate 200 years of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the country. The first was when the then-Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquaire, provided entertainment for Irish convict workers on March 17th, 1810!
9. You may have noticed there isn’t any corn in that corned beef and cabbage you have once a year on March 17th…the “corned” bit actually refers to the large salt crystals that were historically used to cure meat and called, you guessed it, “corns”! (That’s why it had to be boiled—to get rid of the excess salt!)
10. There’s a 50-year-long tradition that, on or around St. Patrick’s Day, the current Prime Minister of Ireland (the Taoiseach) presents the current U.S. President with a crystal bowl of shamrocks. It’s both a symbol of the close ties between the two countries, and a political move that helps a relatively small country retain a familiar relationship with the U.S.! While it most likely won’t be happening this year, it did in 2020, just days before the world went into lockdown.
This post is part of a series, read Volume III here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
If your dancer is retiring, which parts of being so involved with the Irish dance world will you miss the most?
The part I will miss the most when Cayla retires from SRL (she does hope to continue in college) will be seeing all the people we have met and befriended over the years from different schools and especially the quality time spent with her. We will all be entering a new phase of life and it will never be the same.
What’s the most important life lesson you think your dancer learned from Irish dance?
The most important lesson Cayla’s learned are the benefits of hard work and never giving up.
What are your dancer’s plans for the future so far?
Cayla hopes to study environmental engineering and to keep dancing!
Any advice to graduating dancers? To younger dancers and their families?
My advice to graduating dancers would be continue to enjoy dancing and think back to the great times and friends you have had these past years. To younger dancers and families: enjoy every moment including the ups and downs and treasure your time together because it will be gone in the blink of an eye. Believe me, this is bittersweet and there are a few tears falling as I write this.
What are your hopes and dreams for your dancer’s life?
My hopes and dreams for Cayla are that she would follows her dreams and find a good place for herself in life.
This post is the first in a series. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Dispelling Myths About the Mythical Leprechaun
So, what do you know about Leprechauns? They’re Irish, small, and magical, they love playing tricks and pranks, they’re an emblem of all St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, they love wearing green, love gold, have something to do with rainbows, and they’re imaginary. Nothing else to say (unless you plan on making a Lucky Charms joke,) right? Well, not quite. Let’s take a look at these assumptions one by one…
Your first assumption is definitely right: Leprechauns certainly are Irish. In fact, some people believe they’re the true natives of Ireland, along with the other “Fair Folk” or Faeries! The legend of Leprechauns are as old as any on the isle, though they’ve obviously changed over the years (no breakfast cereal was involved at the beginning at all.) Leprechauns are mentioned in Irish texts as far back as the 8th century, and not just in one part of Ireland, but all through the country. And with your second assumption—they’re small—you’re two for two! The origin of the modern word Leprechaun is the Gaelic word “luchorpán” meaning “small-bodied.”
Those third and fourth assumptions, that they’re magical tricksters, are right on the money again (no pot of gold pun intended.) W.B. Yeats (famous poet, but also an Irish folklorist,) separates the lighthearted gags that Leprechauns like to pull from the more serious tricks the Sídhe (pronounced shee) like to perform (like swapping human children for Changelings.) A perfect example is the belief that if you manage to catch a Leprechaun (no small task—pun intended!) you get three wishes…but you better be careful about the way you word it. Leprechauns will find any loophole you leave in your phrasing! (One story tells of a man who wished for riches beyond compare and his own island...except when the Leprechaun snapped it’s fingers he was wildly rich on a deserted island, with nowhere to spend it. He had to use his last wish just to get back to Ireland!)
Next, we have the first real error: Leprechauns have absolutely nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day beyond the fact they’re Irish! There is a (unofficial) Leprechaun Day, but it’s May 13th and more of a modern invention connected more to our cartoon, infantilized versions of the myth. Many Irish people aren’t fans of how common the simplified, caricature versions of this long-standing myth are in the cultural zeitgeist. As early as 1963, John A. Costello, former Prime Minister of Ireland, was even quoted as saying in an address to the Oireachtas (Irish parliament:) “For many years, we were afflicted with the miserable trivialities of our tourist advertising. Sometimes it descended to the lowest depths, to the caubeen and the shillelagh, not to speak of the leprechaun.” This desire to stop trivializing Irish mythology hasn’t gone away—as recent years have called more and more schools to look at their culturally insensitive mascots, even Notre Dame’s famed “Fighting Irish” Leprechaun mascot has been coming under fire.
After that, we all know the stereotypical Leprechaun look: green suit, red hair, gold buckles on their hat and shoes. While the color green (and red hair) has become associated with Ireland for a myriad of reasons (mostly religious and political,) the color originally associated with Leprechauns was red! As green became the color of Ireland over time, it became the color of the playful fairies, too. But those shoes you’re thinking of—those actually do point to a “truth” of their mythology. The basis of many a fairytale all across Europe, Leprechauns are the shoemakers of the Fey (as Yeats once said: “Because of their love of dancing, [faeries] will constantly need shoes.”) The word Leprechaun is even associated with an old Gaelic term: “leath bhrogan” meaning shoemaker, and it’s said you can find them by following the sound of their hammering. Many myths also claim they’re involved in Fey dances in another way: they’re also said to be extremely skilled musicians (maybe that tap, tap, tap is just their hard shoes!)
What about the pots of gold at the end of the rainbow? There’s a myth for that! Only modern stories paint Leprechauns as covetous, hoarding their gold--the original telling is more about humans and their greed. The Leprechauns are said to have procured their pots of gold long ago, when the invading Danes left their riches for the Leprechauns to guard when they left Ireland to invade yet another already occupied country. Ever the tricksters and proud Irishmen (there’s no record of female Leprechauns, and no explanation as to how this might work,) the Leprechauns hid the pots of gold all over the countryside. Since it’s impossible to actually find the end of the rainbow, the myth of the pot of gold at the end is said to be another way for Leprechauns to trick humans and expose their greed—they can go looking for someone else’s belongings, but they won’t find them! (And, if you manage to, be careful to watch the Leprechaun closely. They’re known for distracting humans and disappearing before you get any gold or wishes!)
Your last assumption (that they’re imaginary,) well, that’s up for debate. While I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s any proof of their existence (beyond ancient texts and tall tales in the Irish countryside,) at least a third of Ireland isn’t ready to dismiss it out of hand. In a 2011 survey conducted by Co. Louth-based whiskey producer, Cooley Distillery, 33% of Irish people polled believe Leprechauns still exist and 50% of those asked believed that Leprechauns at least existed in the past. These statistics actually aren’t that surprising--a small but fervent faction of Irish people at least passively believe in the Fair Folk, meaning that while they don’t claim to actively interact with faeries, they make sure to mind any customs regarding the Fey…just in case.
Ultimately, the Leprechaun is more than a cartoon used to sell sugary (though, delicious) cereal, but a part of a nation’s rich, folkloric history as much as their early kings and heroes. There’s a mischievousness, but ultimately playful air to them that we’ve come to associate with the Irish nation itself, with their love of storytelling and joking, music and dance. Like anything else, the Leprechauns (and the Irish) are a far more interesting and full story when you scrap the stereotypes and learn just a little more!
This post is part of a series. Read our last post, all about St. Patrick's Day in Ireland, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
While innumerable things have changed in our world in the last year, no virus can stop the seasons from changing. From this vantage point in March, we’re all dreaming of spring, but parents know there’s something slightly more ominous looming in the horizon: summer. Two or three whole months of no school, and these days, little social interaction outside the house. But since the 1870s, parents have been turning to the most active possible solution to keep their kids engaged during the hottest months…summer camp!
Connecticut has a long history with summer camps, with the first American summer camp having been founded in Gunnery, CT just after the Civil War. The idea caught fire and in a less than 20-year period around the turn of the century the number of summer camps in the United States rose from 100 to over 1,000. These first camps were all about removing children from urban environments to reconnect with nature, and this kind of summer camp hasn’t changed all that much since. But after WWII, parents were eager to return their children to a more innocent time and summer camps had a second boom—this time with a wider range of variety as special-interest camps such as sports camps and arts camps popped up all over the country.
But what has made the summer camp an American institution? The skills taught at summer camps—be it outdoorsmanship or art forms like dance—have always been only part of the equation. The Harvard Graduate School of Education puts it this way: “All those classic camp dynamics—being away from home and parents, making new friends, being part of a team, and trying new things—are building blocks to crucial social-emotional [learning (or SEL)] skills.” Foundational, SEL skills include “self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making” and have been found to be crucial for both success in school and in later, professional life. But, unfortunately, due to the restraints placed on teachers by state-mandated curriculums, we often see this type of learning not prioritized in the classroom. Americans have been turning to a solution outside of school for 150 years now, and we have the data to back it up: a 2005 study conducted by the American Camp Association found consistent and significant growth in SEL skills (and self-confidence) in children after only a single summer camp session!
As important as SEL skills are, there’s another factor that’s helped give summer camps such staying power: the physical benefits. The majority of summer camps have always included a focus on physical activity, and in our increasingly digitized world, finding a healthy and active outlet for kids is more important than ever. We all know that our country has been facing issues for years when it comes to the health of younger generations—but it turns out summer camp could be of help. In a 2011 edition of the Journal of Adolescence, a study reported that adolescents with no organized summer activities were at the greatest risk of obesity, while a 2010 study found that day camp campers who were exposed to active peers and active teachers were more likely to be physically active even after camp ended. While a week of physical activity is definitely good, the way camps instill the habit of exercise is even better!
While our registered dancers here at SRL Irish Dance Academy (from Beginner level up!) know all about how fun one of our summer camps can be, what about someone who’s never attended an Irish dance class? Don’t worry, we have a great option for even the newest dancer, as well! SRL is hosting two, week-long “Intro to Irish Dance” Summer Camps this year. Each week consists of five straight days of one class a day (at work-friendly times for parents!) to give new dancers a real feel for our year-long programs. The best part? Until May 1st, SRL is running a deal that will carry you into the school/dance year: sign up for this "Intro" Camp and we'll include a free four-week Taster Session in September (and wave your registration fee when your dancer falls in love with Irish dance and insists on signing up!)
This camp is multipurpose, for not only will it ease any parent’s mind about how interested their child is in Irish dance before enrolling for the year, but it will provide that social and physical outlet kids need every summer (but this one especially!) Even if your child finds out Irish dance isn’t right for them, they’ll still be invited into a fun, welcoming environment, taught to stretch and move their body in new ways, and be able to interact with their peers as both team mates and friends while they increase their self-esteem by learning a new skill. We’ve been holding classes in our clean, appropriately socially-distanced studio since September without any issue, and are excited to introduce your child to the world of Irish dance!
We could go on and on about the benefits of starting dance early (and we already have! check out our post about it,) but the real takeaway from SRL’s intro program is the same as any camp: increasing your child’s SEL skills while allowing them to express themselves in a healthy way and have fun! This opportunity creates a break from technology, lets them develop a sense of independence, let all that silly energy out, and have more and varied social interactions. And, not to mention, it gives parents a much-needed break, too!
Learn more about our “Intro to Irish Dance" Summer Camp—with a special discount (and additional savings!) running until May 1st! Or feel free to reach out by phone or email (email@example.com) for more info. We look forward to dancing with you soon!
Welcome to our new series, where you can get to know SRL’s staff better with some hand-picked recommendations! First up is Miss Codi--associate instructor for our younger students!
Books: Twisted Fairy Tales. Seeing the different ways those could have gone is so interesting!
Food/Recipes: Our go-to is a pasta dish with lots of veggies and ground turkey. Recently we’ve been doing a meal kit, and I love the variety we eat now.
Take Out: Vegetarian sushi, especially if they have mochi for dessert!
Video Game: Hidden object video games are lots of fun. My husband and I put them up on the TV to play together, and see who can find the objects first.
Small Business in Area: Farr’s Sporting Goods. We went in to get disk golf discs, and were pleasantly surprised at how much of a selection they had.
Must See Natural Wonder: Niagara Falls
Coffeeshop: Starbucks. I try to go to different local shops, but I keep coming back.
Restaurant: Carlito’s Bakery or Market on Main.
Dessert: Mochi or macarons!
Ice Cream Flavor: Cherry
Outdoor Activity: Disc Golf. Love the course at Wickham, but there are so many now, it’s great!
Board Game: Disney Sorry. Easy to talk around with friends, but still fun to play with everyone.
Vacation (One Day!): Disney World. I also would love to go on a train tour of Europe, but that’s a little farther out.
TV Shows: Currently WandaVision, but all of the new Disney+ content has been awesome. I loved The Mandalorian and am really excited for the Loki show (as well as the Boba Fett show!)
First Job: “Tour Guide” for 5 Wits. I got to spend my time leading Spy Missions and Guiding Tours through being trapped in the Nautilus.
Guilty Pleasure: McDonald’s Happy Meals. I try so hard to stay away from fast food, but if I’m going on a long drive I’m always tempted.
Pets: Two cats, Luna and Rowena. They are sisters and almost 5 years old, but still love to cuddle with each other!
Tips for Productivity: Make a list so you have a visual representation of what needs to be done and you can see your progress. Tackle things in small pieces, so you don’t get overwhelmed.
Advice for Dancers: Try to practice several times a week. Record yourself so you can see what you need to work on, instead of trying to fix it in the moment.
Tips to Cheer Up: Go for a walk, cuddle with animals, or talk out the situation. Removing yourself from the situation by going for a walk helps to give some perspective, which is the same with talking it out. Cuddling with animals just gives you time to calm down.
This post is the first in a series. You can learn more about Miss Codi here, in her Q&A! Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
St. Patrick’s Home Turf: St. Paddy’s Day in Ireland
We all know the Saint Patrick’s Day stereotypes: lots of green, lots of gold, and lots of Guinness. But that’s our American (or, for as many as 32 million of us, Irish-American,) tradition. How have the Irish marked the occasion over the years?
The truth of it is simple: until the Irish-Americans made it the party it’s become today, St. Patrick’s Day was a religious holiday. It seems obvious when you say it: it’s literally a day celebrating a saint. Traditionally, the Irish spent the morning in church and celebrated in a modest way the afternoon. Though the holiday falls squarely during Lent, Lenten prohibitions were lifted on the day to allow for feasting and at least some mild revelry. The government even took steps to keep it mild: going against the harmful stereotypes that were perpetuated about the Irish people during Ireland’s mass emigrations in the 1800s due to the potato blight, pubs were actually closed on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland (by law) until 1977.
Even after the ban was lifted, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland were overall subdued (leading to the rumor that the Irish don’t celebrate the holiday) until around 1995. With the advent of the internet, the world was expanding rapidly, and the Irish government did its best to increase its appeal to tourists by embracing the high-spirited, secular twist Americans had put on the holiday, starting over a century before. And it worked—Dublin’s parade (pre-COVID) is now a five-day festival and has boasted half a million attendees! Of course, places in Ireland celebrated St. Patrick’s Day the American way (i.e. with a parade) earlier than ’95—it just wasn’t as widely advertised. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland was held in Waterford in 1903, with Dublin not coming around to the celebrations until 1931—1995 was just the year the government got involved!
However, there’s a few misconceptions we need to clear up: first, corned beef and cabbage? An American invention! This “traditional” meal is a 19th century, Irish-American adaptation of a common Irish meal: ham and cabbage. As the Irish immigrants in New York in the 1800s weren’t able to afford ham, they had to make do with hard, salted beef usually used for long sea voyages. They would boil the beef three times in order to soften it and remove as much brine as possible, resulting in the meal we still eat today. The Irish are far more likely to indulge in a full Irish breakfast with tea or a leg of lamb with potatoes and other root vegetables…or maybe some shepherd’s pie—some stereotypes do have their root in truth, after all.
Second, don’t you dare call it St. Patty’s Day! For one thing, Patty isn’t short for Patrick, but Patricia. As the Miami Herald reported in 2018: “Saint Patrick was indeed not a woman nor a hamburger.” In fact, the original, Gaelic spelling of Patrick is Pádraig, accounting for the mysterious appearance of two ds in the correct nickname: Paddy. But, you could also skip the abbreviations full stop—Paddy (among other traditional Irish names such as Mick) were once used as a derogatory names for an Irish person in the not-so-distant past. Might as well give the man his due and just say St. Patrick’s Day!
Lastly, and most importantly: the concept of the “wearing of the green” (also a popular Irish air!) isn’t just to mark your Irish heritage and celebrate it, but a bigger political statement. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the color originally associated with St. Patrick as actually blue, but the green was inspired by his teachings (see this post for more info!) and became a symbol for Irish nationalism against British oppression—starting with the Irish Rebellion of 1789. This event isn’t a light one--an estimated 10-70,000 people died in their fight for freedom. Wearing a shamrock (which is three leaves, not four) on your lapel or even wearing a piece of green clothing was considered a rebellious act in and of itself. In many ways, St. Patrick’s Day’s celebration of Irish culture isn’t just a party, it’s in honor of those who gave their lives for home and country—so maybe leave off on the pinching.
It makes sense that so many places in America go green for St. Patrick’s Day (most famously, the Chicago River every year since 1962, but don’t forget the Empire State building, among many other landmarks) we once shook off the shackles of our British rulers, too! Now that America has more people of Irish heritage than actually live in Ireland, we can have our own traditions to celebrate the Irish diaspora across the country…but it’s still important to bear in mind what this day means for its country of origin. No matter how you choose to celebrate this year: Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit! (Or: A Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!)
This post is part of a series. Read about the history of St. Patrick's Day in America here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Name: Christina H.
Dancer at SRL: Aubrielle
How long has your family been with SRL?
How did you pick your dancer’s name?
Aubrey and Brielle were our two favorite girl names, so I put them together and that’s how she became Aubrielle.
Why Irish dance?
Aubrielle has been doing other types of dance for years but Irish dance is beautiful and unique.
What’s your favorite dance-related memory?
When Aubrielle was 4 years old she was up on stage for her recital and throughout her entire jazz dance she had the biggest frown on her face. She did a great job dancing, but that frown had her father and I laughing throughout the entire number.
What did you want to be when you grew up when you were little? Why?
When I was little, I wanted to be a waitress when I grew up because waitresses were so nice, and they always served my favorite food.
Favorite winter family activity?
Our favorite winter activity is snow tubing in our backyard.
What advice would you give parents who are looking to try out Irish dance?
If your child loves to dance, they should try Irish dance. It is different than any other style of dance.
How do you think dance has positively affected your dancer?
Dance has built her confidence and has opened her up to experiencing new things.
What’s the most important quality to have in life?
The most important quality to have is courage. If you have courage, nothing will hold you back from achieving your dreams.
This post is part of a series. Meet our last spotlighted parent, Becca H., here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Saint Patrick Immigrates to America
I remember hearing something growing up that used to deeply confuse me: the Irish don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. This isn’t true, of course, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the Irish have been celebrating him on his feast day in the liturgical calendar (March 17th) for at least 1,000 years…But haven’t you heard the rumor that all rumors have a grain of truth?
The truth isn’t that the Irish don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but that the modern conception of St. Patrick’s Day (think “Kiss Me I’m Irish” tees, shamrocks and Guinness everywhere, and parades, parades, parades!) is more of an American invention. Or, more specifically, an Irish-Spanish-one-day-American invention. The first known St. Patrick’s Day parade took place over a millennia after his death in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. In 1601, the area was a Spanish colony, but an Irish vicar named Ricardo Arturo (or, Richard Arthur in his native tongue) organized the event to honor the Saint, who at the time his parishioners believed protected the city’s crops. This fact didn’t even come to light until 2017, when a historian named Michael Francis discovered a record of the event in centuries old documents about gunpowder expenditure!
Before this discovery, America was still quick to snag the claim of the first St. Patrick’s Day parade, though there’s some debate about which city gets the honor. Boston, still known today for its wealth of Irish-Americans, held its first parade in 1737 when Irish soldiers serving the British marched through the city in solidarity and the Irish Immigrants of the city came out in force to celebrate with them. However, despite their first parade not occurring until 1762, New York City also likes to claim the honor! It comes down to the fact that NYC’s became not only the biggest parade in the country (with up to 3 million attendees and 150,000 people marching pre-COVID,) but also the most consistent (Boston only made theirs an annual event after NYC and used to draw in only a measly million attendees.)
While millions of attendees are pretty impressive, what if I told you one of the runners up was in SRL’s own backyard? The Holyoke, Massachusetts St. Patrick’s Day Parade might not be not as well-known as Boston or New York, but this parade still became one of the largest in the country. Hosted every year pre-2020 on the Sunday after the holiday, Holyoke started the tradition in 1952 and its numbers reached 400,000 by the 2011 celebration…which is ten times the population of the city itself. It’s all down to the fact that Holyoke had historically held one of the densest populations of Irish Immigrants in the country—in the 1800s it was called “Ireland Parish.” The parade has been considered so influential that many notable officials have attended, including two Speakers of the House and even President John F. Kennedy when he was a Massachusetts state senator (even with Boston only two hours away!)
But this all begs the question: why such huge celebrations? It’s not just the American desire to go big. Something that’s easy to overlook in this country’s history is the treatment of Irish Immigrants, particularly in the 1800s. When the Famine arrived in 1845, over 1 million Irish citizens fled to the New World to avoid starvation. The Irish may have found a more agriculturally prosperous country, but they also found a society ready to discriminate against them because of their poverty, their Catholic beliefs in largely Protestant America, and their thick, foreign accents.
St. Patrick’s Day parades in American cities developed into larger and larger gatherings not only as cultural touchstones that helped the Irish celebrate their heritage and find a sense of community, but also as a way for these immigrants to gain power in a place that denied it to them. The culmination of this came in 1948, when President Truman attended New York City’s parade, a nod to the political capital the Irish immigrant had gained in the previous century. From those 1 million immigrants, at least 32 million United States citizens now claim Irish ancestry, and the idea of being discriminated against for being Irish is in our past. Still, when you have a pint or give someone a pinch this year, take a moment to remember the background and purpose of all that green…then get back to the celebration!
This post is part of a series. Read more about Ireland's history by reading about some of Ireland's most romantic traditions here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
How long have you been dancing with SRL? Why SRL?
I’ve been dancing at SRL for 2 years. We heard that it was a great Irish dance school from our neighbor.
How did you get started with Irish dance?
I saw Irish dance at my cousin’s dance recital and thought it looked like fun. That fall my mom signed me up for it.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Pizza! It’s my favorite.
What’s your favorite dance-related memory?
Winning three medals at the Fall Feis.
If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
I would be a Cheetah because they are very fast and strong.
What’s your favorite thing about dancing?
My favorite thing about dance is mastering new dance steps.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go and why?
Ireland to learn more about the history of Irish dance.
What’s the best advice you can give a new or younger dancer?
Stick with it, even when you think it’s hard just keep trying and you will get.
Who do you look up to?
Mr. Christian because he is an amazing Irish dancer. I would love to be able to dance like that someday.
This post is part of a series. See our Q&A with another SRL dancer, Madison T., here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Saint Patrick
It’s March and you know what that means: Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner! This month on the SRL blog, we’ll be covering all things to do with (as the Irish would prefer we stop calling it…) St. Patty’s Day and all the celebrations of Irish heritage it invokes. And while March 17th probably conjures images of green beer and leprechauns, you probably don’t know quite as much about the holiday’s namesake: the mysterious Saint Patrick.
We might be calling this post “Irish Mythology,” but first, the facts: St. Patrick was real, but he wasn’t Irish. The man who would eventually be canonized was actually born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain (though some sources would argue Scotland or Wales—it was a long time ago, after all) into a prosperous family. During his teen years, his father’s villa was attacked by Irish raiders and St. Patrick was abducted and sold into slavery. St. Patrick spent 6 or 7 difficult years as a slave and herdsman in the cold, wet fields of Ireland before he dreamed of his escape: a voice told him to make a run for the coast. It worked, and St. Patrick was able to return home.
However, St. Patrick’s time in Ireland had deeply affected him, and caused him to not only become a fervent Catholic, but to return to the place of his captivity on a mission of good works. While St. Patrick’s many writings are often incoherent (his Latin is comparatively poor to others of his time,) scholars agree they all hold a pure conviction to help the people of Ireland through his religion. While it’s easy to dismiss this as typical missionary work these days, St. Patrick did this at severe risk to his person—he was “cast into chains” at least once and often had to hide for fear of his life—because he believed he had heard “the voice of the Irish” calling to him. He continued this work of converting his former captors until his death in 461 in Saul, Co. Down near the site of his first church at the mouth of the Slaney River. St. Patrick is buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick and is visited to this day on March 17th as a “traditional day for spiritual renewal.”
What’s still best known about St. Patrick are the myths surrounding him: the shamrocks and the snakes. In a Sunday School tale often still told today, St. Patrick used Ireland’s native shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity to his converts. With those three leaves (which is typical—making four so rare and lucky!) that are connected by a singular stem, the shamrock became a real-world analogy for God’s multifaceted presence in the Christian faith (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—both separate and the same.) Whether or not St. Patrick was actually the first to teach this, it’s a helpful physical example to explain the concept!
And now, the biggest myth: the snakes! If you know only one thing about St. Patrick, it’s that he was the pied piper of snakes, driving all the serpents of Ireland into the sea. If you’ve heard about Adam and Eve, it’s not too hard to figure out the allegory here—by being largely responsible for the conversion of the Irish from Paganism to Christianity, St. Patrick was thought (from the perspective of the times) to have driven the “evil” off the island. This is something we can definitively prove is a myth, as there is not a single geological record of a snake ever existing naturally in Ireland—after all, the island broke off from mainland Europe during the Ice Age and the cool climate isn’t particularly suitable for a cold-blooded creature.
There are many lesser-known, but no less miraculous miracles said to be performed by St. Patrick—above all, the raising of the dead. St. Patrick claims in his own writings to have raised at least 33 people from death (notably Jesus’s age at his time of death,) and also apparently had healing powers. His prayers were said to have caused everything from a wolf returning a lamb to him unharmed and a herd of swine appearing to feed a hungry crowd in a deserted area to uncovering deceits and smiting blasphemers—all of which may be clear metaphors for the religion he stood for, but are stated as fact in the earliest known records of them. Having taken place in the 5th century—there’s no way to know for sure!
One more surprising St. Patrick fact? The color traditionally associated with him wasn’t green, but blue. It’s a lighter, azure-like blue still often called “St. Patrick’s Blue” and can be seen on older Irish flags, as well as on the emblem of the Irish Citizen Army, who attempted to end British rule in 1916 with the infamous Easter Rising. By the time the Irish Citizen Army used this blue as their symbol, it was already fading in fashion as St. Patrick’s color simply due to the fact that Ireland is a truly green country. As early as the 1798 Irish Rebellion, the “wearing of the green” (a shamrock on the lapel) became a nationalistic practice and eventually came to be associated with St. Patrick, but bits of blue can still be seen…the Presidential Flag of Ireland, for instance!
No matter your religion, St. Patrick was a man of strong convictions, devoted to serving a country he saw as needing his help and spiritual (truly, moral) guidance. Instead of hating his former captors, the people who had kidnapped him and worked him to the bone, he returned with kindness in his heart. Remove Catholicism from the story and you’re still left with something to celebrate: St. Patrick’s Day isn’t only a celebration of Ireland, but a celebration, just as spring is arriving, of awakening, forgiveness, and new beginnings to come.
This is Volume IV of a series. Read our last installment all about Irish love stories here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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