I’ve talked about my feelings about St. Patrick’s Day in the past, as well as my reasons for celebrating it as Irish Heritage Day instead. I’ve also shared, and will share again, Morgan Daimler’s excellent post on what we do know about St. Patrick, his history, snakes, etc. Each year, I continue to see the same inaccurate histories repeated about Ireland, St. Patrick, Druids, etc. Some people, apparently, even refuse to attend Irish Heritage festivals because of it! My goodness. So, instead of wasting energy gnashing your teeth about bunk history, here are some ways to celebrate Irish Heritage Day that will promote actual Irish history and cultural preservation. Before I begin, I want to remind everyone that I’m an American polytheist and a descendant of Irish immigrants. I will never attempt to represent people who actually live in Ireland, speak Irish, etc. I’m working hard to learn the old ways from Irish sources, so this is important to me, and I gather it’s important to many Irish pagans as well.
- Attend an Irish Heritage festival! Yes! Go! Listen to traditional music, watch or even partake in step dancing, and rub elbows with others who are proud of, or curious about, their heritage. (Just, you know… try not to get distracted by the plastic Paddy nonsense. It misrepresents Irish culture, and a lot of it is bad for the environment anyway. Also, try to avoid perpetuating drunken stereotypes.)
- If you can’t attend a festival, do listen to traditional music. There is plenty to stream online. And if you ever get the chance, buy CDs from bands who are keeping the old music alive and well. Play them for your families and at your gatherings. With time, you and your loved ones will learn to sing along. Perhaps it will inspire instrumental or dance lessons!
- Read a book about Irish history. Not modern Pagan practice. History. Learn about ancient history, yes, but also read about modern history. I’m no expert. It’s a work in progress, but we should not embrace Irish lore, symbolism, etc without grasping the fact that the Irish culture is still alive! Learn about what makes them who they are today so that you can inform your practice from a place of integrity and respect. If sitting down to read a book is not your thing, there are many podcasts dedicated to Irish history.
- Read or listen to Irish lore. Check out Lora O’Brien’s “Learn the Lore” challenge on Irish Pagan School. I can’t say enough about it! I’m so grateful that she is sharing and making so much available to people all over the world.
- Speaking of Lora O’Brien, she posted this to her FB in 2017:
If you want to celebrate your Irish heritage today, please educate yourself. What can you learn about the reality of Ireland today?
Try the Magdalene Laundries. Mother and Baby ‘Homes’ all over the country, and nearly 800 dead bodies in Tuam. The 8th Amendment. The Black and Tans. Treatment of political prisoners in the North. The Hunger Strikes. The Irish homeless crisis. Mental health crisis. There’s more, but…
Instead of spending your cash and time drinking and ‘celebrating’ today, could ya donate that cash to Irish activist causes, and use that time to learn some real history.
Happy Paddy’s Day.
If you are able, research some of those causes, or others, and donate. I’m currently exploring some of the environmental organizations in Ireland. When I was blessed with the ability to visit in 2011, my favorite memories are of the time I spent along the River Boyne. It was gorgeous, and I long to go back and explore more of the natural wonders in Ireland. Since it inspired and moved me, perhaps that is a cause worthy of donation. What moves you?
- Cook an authentic Irish dish. I really enjoy exploring recipes from “Irish Traditional Cooking” by Darina Allen. I do have to alter things a bit to make them vegetarian, but I really appreciate all the extra information about the recipes and their cultural context, including how some things used to be made. Even while I don’t use meat, I think it’s important to understand traditional ingredients and why they were used.
- Study the Irish language! I try to do a lesson each night using Duolingo. Like other Celtic languages, Irish (Gaeilge) needs to be preserved. Studying the language has helped me better understand how to pronounce important names, locations, and concepts within my religious practice, and it’s deepened my connection to my ancestors. Think of every lesson as an offering.
- Share stories with the young people in your life. Whether it’s fairy lore, mythology, tales of Ireland’s heroes (legendary or historic), or your own ancestral immigration stories, tell them to the children. As I cleaned my ancestral shrine today, I showed my daughter one of the few photos I have of my great, great, great grandmother, Mary, from County Mayo. It’s a treasure, given to me from my grandfather shortly before he passed away. My daughter was very interested, which made me so happy.
I hope you take time today to have fun, yes, but also be respectful, learn something, and promote the preservation of actual Irish history, lore, and culture.