The Shamrock of Vigilence



(Synopsis:  A little boy and girl want to know about the roots of St. Patrick’s Day, but they don’t know that G-Ma Lori was Terrorized by the Irish all her life when she lived in a little town dominated by Irish.   G-Ma learns a lesson in Vigilance from her Irish grandchildren about respecting rather than tormenting those who Terrorize you.   She realizes how “lucky” she is that her grandchildren are Leprechauns, and, the power a four-leafed clover can have in her life.)

                   THE SHAMROCK OF VIGILANCE


G-Ma Lori

      “G-Ma, I don’t get it.  Are the little Irish people my Daddy Joe tells me about lepers like in the stories from the Bible?  Aren’t they sick yet or have they been to the doctor?” My five-year-old grandson’s brow furled. His Irish eyes weren’t dancing an Irish Jig--they were darkened with concern as we walked home from his Kindergarten class.

      He was thinking too hard again, a genetic habit inherited from both his parents, scholars who worry about the world and do everything in their power to make a difference.  I braced myself. Very soon he would demand answers to all the questions buzzing about in his precocious head and want them answered on the spot.

     “Hey, my little Irishman, I think you are mixing up apples and oranges.”

      “G-Ma!!!   Matt’s not talking about apples and oranges.  You are being silly.” Sarah, Matt’s three-year-old sister, asserted herself, proving once again, at her whim, she wasn’t going to be left out of any conversation.

      “Sarah, I know what G-Ma means, Matt chided.  “She’s not talking about apples and oranges.  She’s letting me know my question was about two different things.  And I think she’s about to tell me what’s so different.  Am I right, G-Ma?”

      “You are so right, Matt.”  I took a deep breath.  I always felt uncomfortable giving answers to Matt since he held them as gospel, so I always thought through the answer carefully.  “The lepers in the Bible stories are people who are sick and often the story is that Jesus performs a miracle and makes them better.  Jesus is the doctor in this case but the medicine he uses is a little bit of mercy as well as a lot of powerful TLC – tender loving care.  The lepers, as well as those who see or witness the miracle, need faith and acceptance.  Jesus is usually teaching us a lesson when he performs such miracles.”

      “Yes, G-Ma, I know about Jesus and miracles, but how can the little Irish people not be sick – but are so happy – and are dancing and stuff like that?”

      I smiled.  I loved it when the kids twisted words around.  It revealed their eagerness to learn, their ability to hear things in ways adults often misunderstood.  “Your Daddy means the Leprechauns, Matt. They are little elf-like men in Irish Folklore – Irish story telling.  Usually they are wrinkled and old, but I’ve seen pictures and heard stories about younger ones too.”

      “I’m Irish, G-Ma.  So are Matt, Daddy, Uncle Marty, Nana and Grampa Joe.  Mommy says only her smile is Irish.  Are you Irish, G-Ma?  Is G-Pa?”  Sarah’s questions sang like an Irish lullaby, sweet, soft, yet the words tinkled as clear as a mountain stream…flowing with the fresh eagerness of water rich from a glacier, pure and innocent, hungry to travel through life and create rivers of wonderment.

      “What about Auntie E?  She has an Irish name like my middle one.  Why…”

      “Sarah, give it a rest, please,” Matt interjected.  “I want to know more about the Leprechauns”. Matt was getting--as he puts I--‘ants in his pants’.

      “Well, let’s see if I can recall more about them.  Leprechaun comes from the Old Irish word Luchorpan, meaning wee one. They are about 2 feet tall (I approximated with my hands for my audience) and often dress like a fairytale shoemaker with a cocked hat and a leather apron.  When I was little, I learned from the many Irish stories told around St. Patrick’s Day, that they make shoes and can be found by the sound of their shoemakers’ hammers.  They possess a hidden pot of gold and if they are caught, they will reveal the whereabouts of the treasure.  The captor, the one who finds the Leprechaun, must keep his eyes on them every second.  If the captor’s eyes leave the Leprechaun (and he often tricks them into looking away), the Leprechaun vanishes and all hopes of finding the treasure are lost.  Oftentimes the gold is at the end of a rainbow."

    In telling the Irish tale, I was reminded of all the painful falderal associated with St. Patrick’s Day many years ago when I attended a parochial school.  At least a month before the actual day, the entire school learned and practiced Irish songs and dances. Most of the kids in the school had some Irish in their blood, and if not, they pretended to be Irish.
      My family was a noted exception.   I wasn’t Irish, but English and German.  My mother was also teased as a child because she was not Irish.  In retaliation to her own alienation, she thought it great fun to encourage my two brothers and I to dress up in orange instead of green on St. Pat’s Day.  We suffered through a lot of pinches (no green warranted a pinch or two) but it seemed worth it at the time to boast our independence.
       Living here in New York City I practice tolerance because the Irish rule the town, especially on St. Pat’s Day.  I knew if Matt and Sarah were not Irish, they most certainly wouldn’t be terrorized as I was because New York is far more cosmopolitan than the town of 1,500 I came from.  I respectfully continued my recall of Irish customs and folklore, minus the tales of my childhood angst.

      “So, tell me my little Irish lad and lass, who is St. Patrick anyway”?  I decided to see just how ‘Irish’ my little ones were and if they could answer my ‘Irish quiz’.

      “St. Patrick is the Saint for Ireland, G-Ma.  But, you know he wasn’t born there.  I know the pirates took him from his home and that’s how he got to Ireland.  He chased all the snakes out of Ireland, G-Ma. Did you know that”?

     Matt took my hand as we entered the apartment and directed Sarah who held my other hand and me over to the couch.  I knew then we were in for a lengthy discussion about the Irish, their customs or any other topic Matt threw out.  Knowing St. Patrick’s Day was fast approaching, I had retrieved pertinent information relating to the celebrated Holiday (especially here in New York City) from the Internet.  I was ready for my ‘little Irishman’.

      “I do know about the snakes that St. Patrick chased out of Ireland, Matt.

There are several stories but my favorite is the one that he beat a drum so loudly and for such a long time, all the snakes fled into the sea and drowned.  It’s kind of a neat story since the snake was a revered pagan symbol.”  I paused and hoped my little ones could follow my storytelling.  “Perhaps the snakes could be those who didn’t want to do what St. Patrick wanted them to do and so he drove them out of Ireland, or he converted or changed the pagans to want-to-be Christians.”  Matt didn’t flinch, but Sarah did.

      “What’s pag-ism, G-Ma”?  Sweet Sarah’s hand nestled into mine as she forcefully directed my face to hers with her small but strong hands so I would look into her chocolate question marks.

      “Paganism is an irreligious belief, Sarah.  So a pagan is not a Christian, Jew or Muslim. Paganism developed for thousands of years.  It isn’t just a nature religion but a natural religion.  There are many forms of paganism and a lot are descended from Celtic origins.” I was preparing myself for interruptions since Matt and sometimes Sarah would hear key words and either want to question them or add to them.

      “Celtic?”  Matt jumped in.   “Irish are Celts, G-Ma.  Sarah and I are Celtic.  Daddy Joe told us we were.”  Matt grabbed his sister’s arm and chanted “Celtic! Celtic! Celtic!”

      “Cel-tic, Cel-tic, Cel-tic” sweetly chimed Sarah. 

      Apparently, my little ones needed immediate exercise or a snack, or my tale was boring them. They hopped off the couch and zoomed around the small living room several times.  Then Matt got tummy down on the rug and started to move forward thrusting his tongue in and out of his mouth. 

      “Come on, Sarah, let’s be snakes.”  He slithered out onto the kitchen floor where it was easier to vermiculate.

       “I’m a snake, a green one, an Irish one and ‘no legs’ is my name,” Sarah sang the words from her colorful imagination.  “Let’s watch for the Leprechauns and find the pot of gold.  They won’t be guarding for snakes,” she wisely suggested to her eager ‘brother-snake’, Matt.

      “Good idea, Scary Saryyy,” Matt teased.

      “I’m Sarahhhhhh, Matt.  Not Scary Saryyy.”  Sarah indignantly stood up and in her big girl way, fingered her long hair away from her eyes and face.  “Humpfff,” she added hands on her hips for emphasis.

      “Okay, Okay, G-Ma’s ready to continue.  I’ll pour some juice for you two snakes and we’ll get back to St. Patrick.” 

      I thought of how St. Patrick was a Sentinel of Vigilance for Ireland ridding the country of opposition (the snakes) to how he helped establish Catholicism in that country.   He was a busy man.

      “I read that Macewyn Succat, St. Patrick’s real name, was kidnapped at the age of 16 from his homeland in Scotland or Roman Britain by pirates,” I said.  “He was sold into slavery in Ireland like you told us, Matt.  He worked as a shepherd and was a very spiritual and good person.  He found strength in his faith and escaped to France.  There he became a priest and later a bishop.  He changed his name to Patrick after he became a priest.  When he was about 60 years old, he traveled to Ireland to spread the Christian word.”

      “Wow, G-Pa is almost the same age, G-Ma.  Were they born in the same year?” Matt eyeballed me mischievously knowing I would respond.

      “Oh, you little Leprechaun, Matt.  St. Patrick was born in the 300’s and G-Pa and I in the 1900’s.” I continued.  “St. Patrick made a lot of friends and that helped him win converts  (i.e. change people’s religious beliefs). He traveled throughout Ireland and established monasteries, school and churches. Your Daddy, Joe is especially thankful for the Irish monasteries because they kept the literary world safe for many years during times when people liked to burn books.  St. Patrick’s mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years.  He died on March 17.  That’s the day we celebrate as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.”

      “I know something he taught,” Matt proudly interjected.  “Ms. MacMahon said he used the Irish shamrock to explain the three parts of the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Irish, that’s like us, know the shamrock is special. We are s’posed to wear one on St. Patrick’s Day.  It has one stem and three leaves.  She also told us that if we find a four-leafclover that we’d be double lucky.  Let’s look for some when the grass grows in the back yard. Can we G-Ma?”

      “You bet, Matt. We’ll ask your Daddy and Mommy to help too.”  I was relieved he didn’t dwell on the subject of the Trinity any more than he did. The shamrock approach is a lot easier to comprehend.  I thought of how the shamrock might represent a flower of vigilance.  Its three flowers would be reminders of Conviction, Courage and Action.  The stem itself would be a sentinel of vigilance.  If I considered it a Sentinel of Vigilance, I just might wear a shamrock for the first time in my life on St. Patrick’s Day. I giggled to myself.  No more terror for me on St. Patrick’s Day.  Perhaps others would realize the importance too.   Maybe shamrocks could be the symbol of Vigilance, and if everyone wore them, violence would be stemmed.  But then I thought of the violence in Ireland, and wondered if shamrocks might cause more violence, more terrorism.   I continued.

      “In America, St. Patrick’s Day is a time to wear green” I said.  “The first American celebration was in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737.  That’s almost 300 years ago.  Many cities hold parades.  Your city of New York has the largest parade in the whole United States.  G-Pa and I went last year and saw so many Irish bands, kilts, bagpipes it was almost too long for us.  But, since G-Pa has a kilt, one from Scotland, we compared the plaids and enjoyed the music.”

     “G-Pa wore his kilt or skirt to my school last year, right, G-Ma.”  Matt, pulled up his pants in an attempt to make a kilt out of them.”

     “G-Pa is a girl…G-Pa is a girl…” warbled Sarah.  She rolled off the couch onto the floor to help Matt adjust his pant legs.

     “Oh, you two, that’s a bunch of malarkey, you know.”  I knew the word might be familiar to them, or to Matt, whose word recall is enviable.

      “G-Ma, YOU are malarkey and now you have to kiss the blarney stone to be better.   Mommy and Daddy kissed that rock when they were in Ireland.  Did you know that”?

      “Yes, my little Irishman, I do remember that.”  In my preparation for St. Patrick’s Day, I read that the Blarney Stone is a stone set in the wall of the Blarney Castle tower in the village of Blarney.  Kissing the stone is supposed to bring the kisser the gift of persuasive eloquence (blarney).  Thousands of tourists a year visit the castle as did Matt’s and Sarah’s parents.  The stone isn’t easy to kiss.  It’s located between the main castle wall and the parapet.  Kissers have to lie on their back and bend backward and downward.

     I laughed as Matt danced around in his make-believe kilt.  “One story about the stone is that an old woman cast a spell on it to reward a king who saved her from drowning.  Kissing the stone while under the spell gave the king the ability to speak convincingly.”

      “My mommy says my Daddy has a ‘gift of gab’ and he didn’t even have to kiss the Blarney Stone.”  Matt puffed his small chest like a strutting rooster.   “She says I have it too.  What does she mean, G-Ma?”

Matt’s eyes, blue as the Sea of Aran, clouded over at the thought his mother meant he and his dad shared a terrible genetic defect.  Little Sarah sidled over to Matt and clasped his hand to comfort him.

       “’Tis himself,” she said in a motherly tone.  I smiled.  “’Tis herself,” Matt replied impishly.    I loved the way they said the Irish glib for “I am!”  They were, two distinct little entities, as all children are, special to themselves and others.

      “Matt, ‘the gift of gab’ to most people is a special gift.  It means you and your Daddy have the innate ability to talk to people.  And to talk in such a way to endear yourselves to them as well as communicate with them.  It’s not easy for your G-Ma to speak out and articulate (talk well and easily) so I envy yours and your Daddy’s ability.”  I reached out and scooped him into my arms and gave him a proud hug.

      “G-Pa talks all the time, G-Ma.  Does he ‘gab’ like Matt and Daddy? Does he have ‘the gift’?” 

      “Yes, sweet one.  G-Pa has ‘the gift of gab’.   I don’t have the gift.  I’ve always had trouble talking to others.  I’m not comfortable.   But I have other special gifts.  I have the gift of Matt and Sarah.  You two make me smile today and everyday. And…” I paused, “you make me want to talk”.  Maybe…hmmmm…maybe you’re Leprechauns!”  I scooped ‘herself’ into my arms along with ‘himself’ and they returned my smile and great hug.

        “We’re Leprechauns,” they sang.  “We have a pot of gold.  And, you have to watch us, G-Ma, and not look away, or we’ll disappear and you’ll never find us.”
          With that, they dashed to hide, their elfish selves giggling and laughing.   They were little Leprechauns, special elves that made my days as lucky as a four-leafed clover.

         As I watched them I decided St. Patrick’s Day 2002 will be a celebration of my Irish grandchildren, not a time to recall my intimidation by the Irish as a child.  I decided I would no longer be terrorized by exclusion.
          If I had learned anything about the art of Vigilance, I knew it took Courage and Conviction and Action to overcome Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  By “acting as if” I were Irish, I could enjoy the Holiday and spread cheer not fear to my grandchildren.   My job was to help Matt and Sarah feel proud of their ancestry, not bemoan it as I had for over five centuries.   Yes, I thought, I’ll wear a shamrock—my symbol of saluting the Sentinels of Vigilance who taught me how to face St. Patrick’s Day with pride.

       Plus, of course, I’d have two little Leprechauns to guide me through the day.  They were my pot of gold!

                                                  Irish Blessing

                           May the road rise up to meet you.

                          May the wind be always at your back.


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