Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Magonus Saccatus Patricius- The Renegade Roman Celt

As usual I’m working this St Patrick’s day, as I have been every year since I was old enough to help out in my dad’s betting shop (i.e. 14). The powers that be seem to think that it makes some sort of sense to organise major racing festivals alongside public holidays. Who cares about the entertainment of the general population, what about my social life?! Well there was that one year I managed to get off. I was a member of the samba band in a local carnival group (cowbell number two). We were invited to join the main parade in Dublin and for our awesome amazingness we won best in show. Better days.

I suppose I shouldn’t be sniffing at the extra work during These Troubled Times. But I’m still miffed at missing all the fun. So to distract myself from my huff I’ve been thinking more about the man Patrick than all the craic I’ll not be having.

The way I see it, there are roughly three generally held views of our pointy-hatted patron. You can take the official line which paints him as the herald of Christianity in Ireland, banisher of snaky godless druids and bringer of holy light. Or, if your not that way inclined, you may see him as the big, bad persecutor of those poor native pagans, who were just minding their own business, living their simple spiritually fulfilling lives when he came and drove them out of their peaceful forest homes. Or- and this, I suspect, is the most generally held of the three- you know nor care little about Magonus Saccatus Patricius but you’re happy to raise a glass or two him anyway in thanks for the day off work (lucky sods).

I was brought up, like all good Irish Catholic schoolchildren, with view one and I remember always having to go to mass to get our shamrocks blessed before we could go to the parade. Later, when I was going through my half hearted teenage I-wanna-be-a-witch phase, I was quite adamant about view two.

But today I have another much more rock’n’roll view of Patrick. It’s the one that sees a working-class hero who risked his life to challenge the status-quo. Of an ex-slave who threw off his shackles and incited revolution. Yes, he drove out the druids. But these weren’t the nature loving wise men of mythology, these were the corrupt dictators of pre-medieval Europe. They were the ruling elite, subjugators and manipulators of the masses.

The ordinary pagans were serfs who had about as much respect for their leaders as the French did for Louis XVI. The only reason they hadn’t risen up before Patrick came along was that they were tied to Druid rule through their gods and religion. Like any decent despot the druid elder was a man of great spiritual gravitas. But then came the bearded man from Wales (or Brittany, or England, or wherever happens to be claiming him these days) who offered them a way out. They really didn’t care that he was peddling a new god, just as long as this one answered their prayers for a good harvest and a mild winter like the last ones did.

It was mostly thanks to Patrick that today we still celebrate the main pagan festivals only with Christian titles. He was a savvy one, young Pat, and realised all the people really wanted was a little love and reassurance, with the odd party thrown in.

Of course, there are many who would compare the above description of the druidic regime to that of the Catholic church in the proceeding centuries and question what Patrick really achieved. But you could say the very same about Jesus, and that is too tired and convoluted an argument to start here at the end of a post that’s way too long as it is. I've already probably bored to tears anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to read this far. Sorry about that.

Vintage images via The Graphics Fairy.

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