I am not far from “the Greatest Generation,” a designation of people who shepherded the United States through the 20th century – most having come here from other countries and the majority from Europe. I grew up hearing about people who had “the map of Ireland on his/her face” and recognizing what in their speech was never called an accent but rather a “brogue.” The most important lessons I learned from my parents and extended Irish-American family (the first generation born in the U.S.A.) were about faith and love of God, gratitude for the beauty of the world and in the good things in life, and perseverance in the difficult times. Undergirding all was the music that told the stories of all those things and made us long for Ireland as if we had lived, struggled and celebrated there at least for awhile.
Central to this legendary life (please pardon my hyperbole!) was St. Patrick, patron saint of “the old sod.” I will leave the stories to your research as there are many. I must, however, nod to Patrick’s faith by quoting from what is likely the most famous prayer attributed to him. Whenever I pray it I feel compelled to stand (just as at the pledge of allegiance to our flag) and feel the sun rise inside me as I proclaim:
I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to see before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to be before me, God’s shield to protect me…Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me… (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)