It was much easier when I was younger, when I wasn't obsessed with history and my family tree. It was simple. On St. Patrick's day I wore green to school so that I wouldn't get pinched. By the time I was in high school, I asserted that I didn't need to wear green, because I was one-half Irish and wore the green every day of my life in these moss green eyes.
In the 80s I began listening to and performing traditional Irish music, quickly casting aside the music of my immigrant relations, like "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen". When I introduced the music of The Chieftains to my mother, she flatly stated, "That's not Irish music. Kenny Baker -- that's Irish!" And no matter how hard I tried to convince her that those songs were written in America, she remained adamant. Until I wrote "Nora, Sweet Nora", that is, and played it for her, a song I wrote in honor of her Irish mother. But she still said that she didn't like, "That Irish Irish music" because it was too pagan.
My problem with St. Patrick begins with the fact that he wasn't even Irish. He was, in fact, English (this is not to imply that I have a problem with the English. As I've said before, I love England and have even lived there). The Irish Celts had a nasty tradition of crossing the Irish Sea by night to steal away robust young men while the villagers slept. In the 4th century the 16 year-old Patrick was one of these unfortunate young men. When he arrived in Ireland, then known as Hibernia, he was sold into slavery and worked for six years as a shepherd. He later claimed that he spent all of his time alone on a cold mountain praying and that God finally spoke to him, telling him to escape Ireland and return home. Why he would need God to tell him to do this is a mystery to me.
Back home in "Jolly Olde", Patrick entered the priesthood and worked his way up to the position of Bishop. When in his 40s, God once again spoke to Patrick, telling him that he was to go back the people who kidnapped him and save their pagan souls, which is what he did. He built some 200 churches and converted the Irish, using their ancient symbols such as the shamrock. Once the symbol of the female trinity (Maiden, Mother and Crone), Patrick said that it really represented his holy male trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost).
There is the common belief that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but in truth there are and never have been any snakes in Ireland due to geographical vagaries. The serpent was a powerful symbol to the ancient Celts, representing wisdom. I'm afraid the only snakes Patrick destroyed were the traditions and beliefs of the Irish people. Long before the white man decimated the traditions of the native Americans, those of the ancient Celts were already sacrificed in the name of Christ.
During the Elizabethan wars in Ireland in 1562, Elizabeth I, queen of England issued an edict that any Irish harpers or pipers her soldiers came across were to be hanged instantly, with no trial and no questions asked. For some 800 years, the English oppressed their neighbors over the Irish Sea, forbidding them to own land in their own country (it was seized and given to English lords), vote for their own leaders, or go to school in their own cities. That's why it strikes me as rather peculiar that the Irish celebrate St. Patrick at all, seeing as how he started the whole mess.
Being half-Irish myself, I know well enough that we are a paradoxical lot. We are mystically spiritual, though not always particularly religious. Our Christian rites are laden with pagan symbols. We are both brooding and cheerful. We can despise another clan, but will spend days in celebration when we are united by a marriage. I love the Irish part of me, of what the Clarks and the Elys passed down through the family gene pool, but The celebration of St. Patrick converting us heathens will always baffle me.