If St Patrick arrived in Ireland today, what would he think of us?
Hilary Fannin: We were told stories of Hail-Glorious-St Patrick-Dear- Saint-of-Our-Isle
What would St Patrick make of us now?. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Long long ago, before we knew who we were or where we had come from, when the March winds blew and the sky was a cauldron of raggy wet clouds and we were just tiny little girls in big grey school gaberdines, Sr MacGillycuddy Reeks would gather the folds of her habit around her granite knees and regale us with fantastical stories of our past, of Hail-Glorious-St-Patrick-Dear-Saint-of-Our-Isle.
Opening our religion workbooks as she spoke, we’d colour in pictures of our patron saint with the only three crayons we needed for the job: the green, the white and the gold. (Although sometimes we were encouraged to colour the vipers around his bare, saintly feet blood-red and coal-black.)
Drawing closer to the blistered radiator, Sr MacGillycuddy would tell us how, as a boy, Patrick was captured by marauding Irish pirates, stolen from his silken English bed, carried across the water to Ireland and dumped in a pigsty to slave away in the muck, with nothing to eat but the occasional turnip. “Turnip!” we’d sigh over our half-coloured pictures. “As if things weren’t bad enough!”
Turnip! Six years Patrick spent in that sty, so the spirited old nun told us. Six years before escaping (when the savage farmer’s hairy back was turned) and making his way home to his grateful family.
Thin, dirty and oinking slightly when he wanted his back rubbed, Patrick nevertheless regained his composure and ended up becoming a person of influence, a bishop no less. A man of god, he was determined to return to the country that had enslaved him and single-handedly drag it kicking and screaming out of hedonistic depravity and into the fifth century. Patrick wasn’t the kind of guy to stand back and allow those untamed neighbouring natives to continue running around bare-breasted, banging their goat-hide drums, dining on mead and small children and marrying each and every one of their cousins while worshipping the silvery moon.
You’re a bunch of savages on a rock, aren’t you? Fighting and feasting and carelessly fornicating and living off the land?
Trusty crozier in hand, he returned to Ireland to sort the bloody place out and get those grunting, polytheistic savages in line.
“Hold up!” Patrick said when he arrived back on our sunlit shores one morning before breakfast, stepping out of his longboat at Dún Laoghaire pier (or maybe it was Skerries, Sr never said).
“What’s going on here then?” Patrick demanded of the first person he saw, a woman, her eyes obscured by strange black shields, walking the pier in her Hermès trainers with a fully vaccinated miniature schnauzer snapping at his tartan-trimmed dog lead. Surely this couldn’t be right?
“Why, when I left here in AD 409 this country was awash with unwashed savages!” Patrick exclaimed, noting with a shudder of longing (quickly followed by a short, sharp kick of self-abnegation) the dark cinnamon notes of the woman’s scented perfume.
“Do I know you?” the woman asked, removing her Maui Jims to reveal her bold brows and tinted lashes.
“You should do,” Patrick replied. “I’m a patriarch with a vision. I’ve come here on a mission to banish snakes and save you from yourself.”
“Sweet, but I’ve got to be at my desk in 20 minutes and I’ve only done 6,000 steps this morning and I haven’t even blitzed my nut butter for my chia seed toast or read that report on constantly evolving European competition law and policy, so if you don’t mind...”
“But,” Patrick blundered on, “you’re a bunch of savages on a rock, aren’t you? Fighting and feasting and carelessly fornicating and living off the land?”
“I wish. And you’ve come from where?”
“Do you have a passport?”
“There’ve been so many Irish passport applications received from the UK recently that there’s a bit of a backlog. Still, once you don’t say dumb stuff about having a backstop around the entire island, or making jokes about the Famine, or asking about the quickest way back to the mainland, you should be fine. And less of the savages on a rock. But hey, you look chilly. There’s a place at the end of the pier that does a fantastic mochaccino and they’re totally cool with guys in dresses, but you may have to leave your rod at the door.”
With a great uncomprehending sigh, Patrick limped off to get a latte. He may have been among the first Englishmen to set up shop on Ireland’s misty shores, but it’s kind of doubtful, given the Brexiteering antics of his modern-day descendants, that he’ll be the last.