Kage Baker wasn’t that fond of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s an American riot, at heart, and wearied her, despite the family’s putative Irish blood.
She did celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – with a restrained roll of the eye, a shrug and a rueful smile. She’d raise a glass of Guinness without hesitation to the martyrs on all sides; hell, she’d have toasted the snakes if Guinness was making the rounds.
But she wore neither green nor orange for the day, claiming her red hair gave her an indulgence for the custom, and so did her name. Me being named Kathleen, I claimed that exemption too – when other kids on the schoolyard tried to pinch us, we’d punch ’em, and the entire brawl would be eventually adjudicated by the nuns. Very Irish, really.
What Kage honoured was the food and drink – too little of the one and too much of the other, most of the time; the history, the myths, the incomparable and almost inexplicable scholarship. In a land that legendarily kept destroying itself, at one time reduced to 7 pregnant women in a cave, Irish scholars have always kept the flames of knowledge burning at bonfire level. She loved the music, the dance, the mathematically drunken art; the enamels and coloured inks and braided metals.
Had she not been handicapped by gender and the inconvenient flow of Time, I think she would have been happy illustrating manuscripts in some Irish religious house. The Green Martyrdom, as the Irish called the habit of religious hermitude, would have been right up her alley. Just what religion was involved was irrelevant – Kage had a lover’s relationship with God, individual and unique. A lot of the Irish in their beehive cells were like that.
As for St. Patrick – he wasn’t Irish anyway. He may have been Italian, he may have been Welsh: but he wasn’t an Irishman, and he was no hero over snakes. They were never there. Kage detested snakes and was glad Ireland had none: but she was necessarily hip-deep in biological facts by the time she was a published author and she knew the snakes were a myth.
But the fact is that there aren’t even any fossil snakes in the place; it’s an island, after all, and the snakes never made it through the cold Irish Sea. They presumably slithered over the Paleolithic land bridge from Brittainy to make it to England, but they just never found a way to Ireland. Actually, she’d have loved it if there had been some hint of snakes in Ireland’s distant past. It would have been worthy of a Company story for sure.
There are a few notes … the snakes are the protagonists, though, and Patrick is an eco-terrorist. I think we were drinking Guinness and Harp that night. Kage mixed an expert black and tan. Had the spoon and everything.
St. Patrick’s Day came to mean more to both of us, as we aged. We’d tried pubbing when we were young and lithe; but frankly, it’s hard to meet a respectable class of person doing that. It evolved into one of the family-album view of history events that Kage favoured; a chance to eat and drink traditional viands and think about part of our genome. Maybe watch “The Quiet Man”, as schmaltzy an “Irish” film as was ever made. But the Abbey Theatre Player Sean McClory, who played Owen Glynn (a weirdly Welsh name, BTW) , one of the IRA laddies, followed the film to Amerikee – and ended up introducing Daddy to Momma … so that really locked the Irish history into our own.
As long as one was disregarding schmaltz and Irish stereotypes, Kage had rather have watched Darby O’Gill and the Little People, anyway. It’s got a ban sidhe that scared us both into fits when we were kids, and a young Sean Connery that appealed to us when we got older … no end of fun.
Nonetheless, tonight I’ll watch The Quiet Man, of which I know every line and the inflection in which it should be recited; the family and I will be chanting them like sacred writ. Somewhat muffledly, as we feast on salt beef, cabbage and tatties. No green beer; not even any normal beer for me, now being in a alcohol-free chapter of my life. But I’ll raise my glass of plain, monastic water; and, for a little while, my heart will be in Innisfree.
Slainte, Dear Readers.