It’s good to be Irish

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Ah, be‘gosh and be‘gory … Saint Patrick’s Day is nigh upon us.

This is the time of year when people named Doyle, Murphy, Brogan, O’Connor, O’Neil or Riley share a little more pride in their … Irishness.

Saint Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland. The good saint was born approximately 1,600 years ago, in Great Britain, possibly Wales.

When he was 16, young Patrick was kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. The person who bought him owned a farm and needed someone to watch over his flock of sheep. For six years, Patrick stayed on the farm in Ireland and tended to the flock. Finally, as a young 22-year-old man, he escaped and made his way back to Great Britain.

Legend has it that Patrick told his family in Great Britain that, during the long, lonely nights while watching over the flock, he meditated, prayed and grew closer to God. Upon returning to Great Britain, he studied to become a priest. Amazingly, when his studies were complete, he returned to Ireland as a missionary.

Once he was back on the shores of the Emerald Island, he committed himself to watching over a completely different flock — not of sheep, but of the inhabitants of Ireland.

He taught them about God’s Grace and the love of Jesus.

At the time, the primary religion being practiced in Ireland was paganism, also known as Celtic polytheism. They worshiped several gods. There were also druids throughout Ireland. The druids were pagan religious leaders who performed rituals and ceremonies, including human sacrifice.

It was a hostile place for a young, Christian missionary to start spreading the word of a loving God and his Son. Saint Patrick was a brave young man. He became known as the founder of Christianity in Ireland and is still revered as the patron saint of the island.

Unlike most holidays that celebrate a specific person, Saint Patrick’s Day is not the celebration of Saint Patrick’s birth. It is the celebration of the day he died.

Some have suggested that the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, that involves drinking, laughing and storytelling, is a continuation of the original, old Irish wake that was held when Saint Patrick died in 493 CE.

Many people, whether they are of Irish heritage or not, like to pretend they are a little bit Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. The best we can determine, our branch of the Riley clan left Antrim County in Northern Ireland around 1695. They sailed into the Port of Baltimore and later made their way into the wilderness of western Virginia.

Decades later, they joined the frontiersmen who journeyed into eastern Kentucky. Some of my Riley kin still live there.

Just three years ago, Debbie and I jumped at the opportunity to visit Ireland as part of a Wilmington College tour. It was amazing. I immediately felt a connection to Ireland and her people.

On our first day in Dublin, Debbie and I decided to find a pub. We wandered about a block from our hotel. We saw what looked like a classic Irish pub across from us on Parnell Street. I knew we had to stop in for a glass of Guinness. Then, I saw the name – O’Reilly’s Pub. It was a great start to a great week in Ireland.

We toured Dublin, the Guinness Brewery, Trinity College and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. We entered the structure known as Newgrange, the oldest manmade structure in Europe. Newgrange even predates the Great Pyramids by nearly 500 years. We circled the Ring of Kerry; visited the shipyard where the Titanic was built.

I even kissed the Blarney Stone.

The Irish are known for enjoying life; for smiling, laughing, telling tall tales and loving. Despite that, the Irish are also known for fighting. The fighting in Northern Ireland, known as ‘The Troubles,’ has always mystified me.

While in Belfast, I asked our bus driver why the Catholics and Protestants hated each other. I asked about “The Troubles” that embroiled the Irish in bitter fighting for decades.

His answer was insightful. He told me, “Many of us don’t understand it at all. I live in Limerick. I have no idea where my neighbors go to church, but … for some reason, in Belfast, it makes a difference.”

Saint Patrick taught the Irish about the Grace of God and the Love of Jesus. Saint Patrick would hate that some of his flock grew to hate each other just because of the church they attend.

I’m sure he would much rather that they sit, talk, share a pint o’ Guinness and share the love of Ireland.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist