St Patrick's Day paganism


Madam, - Seán O Ceallaigh (March 18th) laments your Editorial of March 16th which praised the "marching bands and phantasmagorical displays involving children and adults dressed as elegant birds, beasts and flowers". He then writes that your Editorial fails to call for any spiritual dimension to the celebration. What could be more spiritual than celebrating creation and creativity in all its vast diversity and colour?

Besides, St Patrick's day parades in the past were never religious events, but boring commercial displays accompanied by equally boring and tedious brass bands, and as for drunkenness, the "drowning of the shamrock" is a tradition that existed in former days when Ireland was an outwardly very religious country.

As for his final paragraph regarding pagan traditions, it is worth noting that early Celtic Christianity and paganism adapted to each other's traditions in an attitude of mutual respect, since they each felt they had something to learn from one another. In John O'Donohue's book, Anam Cara, the author writes about the spiritual wisdom from the Celtic world, and describes how the Celts found divinity all around them: in the rivers and hills, the sea and sky and in every kind of animal. Brian Friel's play Dancing at Lughnasa also outlines how pagan traditions have always co-existed in Ireland alongside conventional Christianity, which has not always been very kind or tolerant to those who have a different understanding of divinity.

Unfortunately there are still some people around today who would love to promote dullness, greyness and crankiness as the ideal form of spirituality. It is not surprising that church attendance among the young is falling.

It seems a strange irony that since the format of the St Patrick's day parade has changed to something joyous and colourful, the sun seems to shine down in all its glory, unlike former years of dreary grey parades when we were pelted with hailstones and rain. So it seems that God, or the gods (depending on your point of view), approve of all these joyous celebrations wholeheartedly; and as for the snakes, well, they definitely seem to have got a very raw deal when St Patrick arrived. - Yours, etc.,

RACHAEL STANLEY, Palmerston Grove, Milltown, Dublin 6.