Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, Laddies and Lassies!

Today we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and the wearin’ o’ the green, kissing the Blarney Stone, shamrocks, and, in many parts of the world, the drinkin’ o’ the green beer.

We honour St. Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland, believed to have died on March 17, 460 A.D. Many legends surround the man, including the ubiquitous “snake” story. In the narrative, St. Patrick stood on a hilltop in Ireland (now called Croagh Patrick) and, with only a wooden staff at his side, banished all the snakes from Ireland. Many people now believe this to be an apocryphal tale, as, apparently, no snakes were indigenous to the island. These people like to think of the snake banishment as a metaphor for St. Patrick’s converting of the Pagans to Christianity.

But let’s examine this further: If St. Patrick banished ALL the snakes from Ireland in the 3rd century A.D., then OF COURSE there are no snakes native to Ireland. It’s not like there were great biologists at that point who did herpetology studies (especially censuses of the suborder serpentes) beforehand and afterwards to verify the whole “no snakes indigenous to Ireland” hypothesis.

But here is the sad chronicle of what happens when the natural balance of things is destroyed. Eventually, since all the snakes were driven from Ireland, the isle was overrun, quite naturally, with rodents (since the chief predator of these animals had been eradicated).

Then, The Pied Piper arrived. He claimed to be an expert in pest control. People especially wanted to get rid of the rats (they didn’t realize about the rat-flea-plague connection, but they thought that rat tails looked like snakes so they detested them the most of all the rodents). The people of Ireland offered to pay him a great deal of money if he’d rid the island of the odious rats, thinking that he was probably just a crazy phony (distrust of musicians was born early in the history of civilization) and they’d never have to come through with the loot. The Pied Piper, armed only with his little Pied Pipe (?) charmed all the rats with his beautiful pastry music so that they ran into the sea and were drowned. Unfortunately, though the Irish were awfully glad that the rats were gone, they didn’t “pay the piper” (so to speak) because they thought, “Hell – what’s he gonna do to us with only that little whistle?” Consequenly, the Pied Piper, with his beautiful pastry music, put all the little children of the island under a spell, and he stole away with all of them.

This is, perhaps, when the Irish get their reputation for drinking quite a lot. I think after all the snakes and the rodents and the pie music and the disappearing children ANYONE might want a good, stiff drink.