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March 10, 2018



Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn


So why am I a week early writing about Saint Patrick’s Day?

What I remember most about the Irish holiday was the preparation. Teachers and parents would start us off with the making of giant shamrocks, painting the wee people and their ‘pot of gold,’ and the like. One year when I was in grade school the teacher played a record of Irish jigs, the singing of ‘Danny Boy,’ and read us stories describing the antics and rowdy play of this special day. So I’m inserting this one early that you may prepare and get the others ready to ‘dance in the streets,’ or whatever may come to mind. Making green cupcakes, and dressing up like a leprechaun and there’s always the playing of the pipes, fiddles, and other Irish instruments. Even a week’s notice is barely enough to make ready. I remember the song, Loch Lomond that we sang in class. “Oh ye take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye.” I remember my thoughts about the ‘bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.’ Of course, as a growing boy, I was less concerned with meeting the lassie than whether there were fish to be caught in this famous lake.

In checking the web on the subject, I see that Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations happens all around the world on or around March 17. I’ve also heard rumors that the events are better attended in the United States than those in Ireland itself. This traditional date is set on St Patrick’s death. That was way back in the Fifth century. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, driving out the snakes, and is still busy interceding for his Celtic even now. Some Irish Catholics pray to him and carry the signs of a shamrock in celebration of an almost purely secular excuse to party. If the seventeenth falls during lent, those who practice Christian religion, especially Catholic, would not be able to drink to the good Saint’s memory except that in remembrance him they are allowed a day off from those restrictions to honor the fellow. In fact, from my point of view, this day is the day many remember their ancestral homeland.

I’m told that the Irish do enjoy a good toast and a swig of alcoholic nectar. Places like New York has their big parade on the 17th, but Chicago has chosen the 18th. Chicago once turned the river green and served green beer all around. Whenever it is celebrated, the middle of March is the approximation of the day of parades and feasting, imbibing, and maybe a prayer or two by those of Irish decent. Conjecture as to whether Shakespeare chose to kill off Caesar on a similar date in his play could be debated by those with little else to do. The phrase ‘Beware of the Ides of March, may be a forewarning of tragedy, but it is likely a mere coincident that the date is so close to the day so cherished highly by the Irish heart.

In all my years of growing up in Louisa I don’t recall once seeing anyone parading around in green costumes and proclaiming the name of the famous Irish Saint. Given that Lawrence County was dry in those days I’m sure ‘green beer’ would have been out of compliance. Sheriff Jordan and Bernard Nelson would have swept down on any offenders and found them a place to play near the Courthouse ‘green.’

 I recall that my grade school teachers had students cut out tons of shamrocks from green paper to hang around our classroom and the halls thereabout. The educators read us stories about those ‘little people,’ that might be hiding under the mushrooms and casting their magic spells. There was a story about a ‘pot of gold,’ at the end of the rainbows. Little green Leprechauns appeared in our children’s movies, but we never took them seriously. They were ‘make believe.’ I do think we were reminded at school the day before St. Patrick’s Day to remember to wear green. It would be years later that I heard that if you didn’t wear green on that day your classmates could pinch you. Back then, I recall only a few people who claimed to have Irish blood, but if we’d had back then more would have known the truth. The hills were heavily populated by folks from the ‘Emerald Isle.’

For most of my life I’ve cared very little about the wearing of the green because I saw myself as being purely English, perhaps Scottish with a possible mix of Native American. Alas, those days are over! I sent my DNA to to find out that I am 23 percent Irish! What a shocker. I had no idea I was even partly Irish. After all, I don’t root for Notre Dame and I don’t speak Gaelic. I did have an opportunity once as an adult while visiting in Busch Gardens to dance with a wee lassie from Dublin. My darling wife, Susie, stood by and watched closely to guarantee my good behavior. All I remember is that she was a good and forgiving dancer. I seriously doubt I held up my end when it came to dancing.

 I would like to learn to play an Irish jig on a fiddle or pipe, but without some magic, or formal training, that won’t happen. I don’t use blarney and have no desire to ‘kiss the blarney stone.’ I’ve seen it on TV, but it looked dangerous to me. You must lean backwards over a high wall to reach the stone. I don’t like high places, so that isn’t going to happen with me. I barely know any Irish history since it wasn’t taught in school. What I do know came from TV documentaries. I know some about the wars for independence from England, and the wars of terrorism between Northern Ireland vs Southern Ireland, Catholic or Protestant, but I really don’t see the reasoning for taking lives over one’s faith. I guess I’ve lived too long enjoying ecumenical tolerance and freedom of religion here in the good old USA. Given the history around religion over there, it’s more understandable that our forefathers focused on writing our constitution to keep the state out of the church’s business.   

My DNA test also showed I had an almost equal amount (22 percent) of Scottish and British ancestry. I had smaller amounts from countries along western European coast, from the far north (perhaps a Viking raid?) down to the Iberian Peninsula including Spain and Portugal. I was told by some that the missing American Indian my grandmother told me about could have been interpreted as Spanish.

Now that I know these facts what will I do differently? I think it gives me a little more identity with the Irish including Saint Patrick’s Day. I am more likely now to break out the green and wear a shamrock on my hat or lapel. I won’t hop on a plane to join in a march, or raise a toast to everyone I meet. But such a move now has a little more legitimacy, don’t you think? On Saturday, March 17, I just might choose to wear shirt that’s a wee bit green. About 23% green would be enough. I might also turn to write an article about Saint Patrick’s Day. Meanwhile, watching a parade is different than marching in one. I know this from experience, so you won’t see me there. I can’t play a tune, or dance, and I’m not big on drinking either. Maybe having checked my DNA was wasted.      

I remember when I was a senior at good old LHS, I had to write a paper about the heritage of the mountain folk found in eastern Kentucky. I researched it for quite some time looking in places that even surprised me. For example, as a music student and member of the LHS band, I had long been exposed to music of many classes. I was not immune to the old-time country music that was practiced on the porches, temporary stages, and court-house steps. I think the restored bandstand that was a fixture on the courthouse lawn was put there to encourage our citizens to pick and sing, although maybe it was first made for concerts by a band of past generations. I remember when the old wooden structure was torn down and replaced by a new, larger bandstand made from concrete. I was young, but I saw it happen.

When writing my paper, I studied the sounds of old-time county music. I immediately saw a similarity between mountain music and Scottish/Irish jigs. The sounds directly imitated its Irish and highlander roots. The Celtic compositions I heard were very like the echoes of our beloved mountain music. I also saw a direct link between the dialects of the old world to that ‘Kentucky twang’ and the word usage I heard everyday while I was growing up. My research also told me that Scott and Irish people had come from a land of highlands and rolling hills. It made sense that upon arriving in America, they moved from the eastern lowlands to build their new homesteads in the mountains. Their language and the music they played supported the idea that the hills of Kentucky were populated with our Irish and Scottish ancestors. Knowing this, we can legitimately fondly think of the emerald isle and appreciate its people.

Here’s a link of a lad and three lassies playing an Irish jig. If you ever had doubt about the connection between Ireland and Appalachia, click on the link:


Back then, I got an ‘A’ on that paper, which was a very rare thing for me since I was usually more into fun than writing. Besides, in those days we had no computers, word processing, spellcheck, printers, or much of anything but a fountain pen and a big rubber eraser to wear a hole in the paper when you made a mistake. No white out was invented just yet. They did have typewriters in the high school, but those weren’t for us to use on class projects. We had to write by hand and hope our spelling, punctuation, and penmanship was good. Mine usually wasn’t.

To close this off I thought I might add some limericks I’ve taken from several websites. Enjoy.

What would you get if you crossed Christmas with St. Patrick's Day? 
St. O'Claus

Why don't you iron 4-Leaf clovers? 
Because you don't want to press your luck.

When is an Irish Potato not an Irish Potato? 
When it's a French fry. 

What would you get if you crossed Quasimodo with an Irish football player? 
The Halfback of Notre Dame. 

How did the Irish Jig get started?
Too much to drink and not enough restrooms!

“I was going to give him an ugly look but he already had one.”

My dear Suzie told me that this article proves I’m full of blarney… After all, what would you expect from someone who’s 23% Irish?

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0 #1 Bernard 2018-03-12 20:45
Hey Mike, another good article. Had to chuckle a bit, bee Gosh & bee Gory Lad, Your DNA looks a little like mine. I too have some Irish in me. But I knew this years ago when my cousin was tracing the Nelson family tree which led her to that part of the world.

Again thanks for the memories & don't forget the corned beef & cabbage.

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