What is a leprechaun? Is there really gold at the end of a rainbow? And why does everyone drink green beer on St. Patrick’s Day? These questions all have one thing in common, they are myths from the Emerald Isle we all call Ireland. In this paper I will try to explain these myths through Ireland’s people, their Celtic tradition, and their religion. To understand the people of Ireland, you first need to understand where Ireland is and what it’s like there. Ireland is an island, to the West of England. The climate in Ireland is rainy, year round.
Ireland has a little it of everything from the mountains and castles, to the coasts and pastures. People first came to Ireland about 10,000 years ago. Ireland was one of the last parts of Europe to become inhabited. The people who came to Ireland probably went across the land bridges that linked England to Scotland, and Scotland to Ireland. These first people lived mostly along the coasts of Ireland eating berries, small animals, and shell fish. Then about 6,000 years ago, these tribes of people started to become more advanced and civilized. They raised cattle and sheep and farmed the land for crops.
They lso moved further inland and had very extravagant burial grounds. Next around 2000 BC, the Bronze age came upon Ireland. The Irish people quickly became infamous for their weapons made of metal, especially their swords. This encouraged trade amongst other European countries, mainly England, Spain, and Portugal. By 500 BC the Celtic people had started to invade Ireland. The Celts as they were known were a very aggressive tribal group that originated as a Germanic tribe. They had defeated the Romans for a slight time period, but eventually they were run out of Europe. Their only safe haven was Ireland.
For some reason, the Romans stopped their Empire at England. In Ireland, the Celtic people easily over threw the simple Irish tribes. This happened for two main reasons, 1) The Celts were much better fighters, and 2) There was about five times as many Celts as there were Irish tribes men. The Celts were not just great fighters though, Roman writers described them as being ‘lively, imaginative people fond of fighting and hunting as well as poetry and storytelling. They had a complex tribal community made up of chieftains, warriors, poets, and Druids, (the priests of their mystical religion. ‘ Ireland pg. 7
The Celtic people gave more to Ireland though than just myths, they brought it it’s first language, a language still spoken today. Through it all, the Celtic language, Gaelic or Irish has survived. Through out the country, people still speak this original language. It is especially prevalent in the western parts of the country. This is why the native Irish sometimes call Ireland Erin, or Erie the ancient Celtic names for their pagan goddess of nature that the island was named after. The island of Ireland is a divided island, not by physical boundaries, but religious ones.
Over 95% of the people in Ireland are Roman Catholic, ollowed by 3-4% Protestant. The reason that Ireland is primarily Catholic is because of the work done by St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was captured at the age of 16 by Celtic warriors and forced into slavery in Northern Ireland where he tended sheep. Because of his situation he became very religious and when he escaped six years later, he went back to England to become a priest. Fifteen years later, Patrick was sent back to Ireland, this time by the Pope, to take the position of bishop.
Within 30 years, Patrick had successfully converted most of the Druid Irish to Christianity. He is said to have used a 3 leafed clover, known as a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish people, this is why the shamrock is still known today as a good luck charm all over the world. Along with this, Patrick established over 300 churches and personally baptized over 100,000 people. One myth about St. Patrick was that he chased all the snakes out of Ireland. This has two meanings. The first is that the snake represented the devil and as he traveled the country spreading Christianity he chased the ‘devil’ out of the people.
The other meaning is that the snake represented the paganism practiced in Druidism. Irish all over the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, the day he died. Along with Christianity came a written language to Ireland. Monks were able to translate the Irish Gaelic to Latin and wrote numerous volumes of Celtic legends, myths, and Christian beliefs. The most famous of theses volumes is the Book of Kells. This book had both Celtic and Christian aspects to it.
“If you look close enough to it’ someone said, ‘you will see such delicate, subtle intricacies.. hat you’ll believe that angels not men created it. ” Ireland, pg. 42 The Book of Kells can now be seen at Trinity College in Dublin. The religious division in Ireland began around 1534, when King Henry VIII tried to impose Protestantism in Ireland. This was a huge misfortune for both the English and the Irish. Henry’s first plan was to take the land away from any Irish Catholics. He then labeled all Catholic Monks, Friars, and Priests ‘rebels’. Henry’s plan did not accomplish any more than making the Irish more active in their religion.
Then in 1553, Henry’s daughter Mary took power and instated her own ‘plantation’ program. Her program took all land away from practicing Irish and gave it to loyal Protestants. This ripped apart the majority of the Irish tribes that had been together since the beginning with the Celts. The main ‘plantation’ that the English had was in Ulster, a county in Northern Ireland. After Mary’s sister Elizabeth took control and started executing Irish priests, the people fought back. In 1641, a Catholic-Protestant war broke out in Ireland, it lasted for more than a decade.
The English were brutal. It is estimated that during the war, Ireland’s population fell from 1. 5 million to just over 600,000 people. This constant battle lasted for another 200 years. Then in the 1850’s, a otato famine hit Ireland. This was the worst disaster of all time because the potato was the main food for the peasants during this time. Over 1. 5 million Irish died from starvation, and over another million traveled to America in search for a new beginning. Then one hundred years later in 1922, the Irish Free state was founded, and in 1949 Ireland became the Republic of Ireland.
The Celtic Traditions still live on today in Ireland through Ireland’s many tourists attractions. Blarney Castle, the pre-historic forts along the coast of Gallway, the Marble factories of Connemara, and the amazing Celtic burial uins are just a few examples. Everyone who has ever been to Ireland or who will be going to Ireland has to kiss the Blarney stone. The word ‘Blarney’ came to be after 1602 when Cormac McMathy avoided swearing allegiance to queen Elizabeth for such a long time that he became the laughing stock of the county. An Irish Moment, pg. 21.
Ever since then, the word ‘Blarney’ has carried the meaning of having the ability to be quick whited and have clever excuses. To kiss the Blarney Stone is easier said then done however. You must first lye on your back and then hang out many stories above ground to kiss the mystical stone. The people in some parts of Ireland live today the same way they have for centuries. For example, on the Aran islands, located at the entrance of Gallway Bay, people still gather seaweed and sand from the beach and mix it with the clay in the fields until it is deep enough to grow potatoes.
There are huge stone walls that surround these people’s property, made from the rock cleared from the land. These walls protect the thatched roof homes on the island, their pastures, and animals from the strong wind. However, there are no doors in the walls. What the Irish have had to do is actually break ieces of the wall away to make openings to go from one field to another. As probably guessed, farming and fishing are two major industries in Ireland. Never the less, major cities in Ireland such as Dublin, Kerry, and Cork have all slowly turned into bustling cities.
One thing has not changed over time though, the Irish’s belief in love of ones family. In fact, the Irish Constitution recognizes the family as “the primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable rights furthermore, the government guarantees to protect the family as it is ndispensable to the welfare of the Nation. ” Ireland pg. 90 Irish families care for one another from birth till death. Only in rare occasions are the elderly put in a nursing home or a child homeless.
One interesting fact is that until recently, the men and women in Ireland stayed at home and cared for their past 30 years old, and delayed marriages respectfully. Even today, the average age of a person marring in Ireland is 25. Ireland pg. 90 Another tradition that still takes place today is when it comes to the family roles. Ninety percent of the time, the women take care of the cooking, leaning, and the raising of the children while the men work either in the cities like Dublin or Cork, or in the potato fields or fishing.
Even though its been over 2,000 years since the first Celt came to Ireland, the legends, myths and customs still live on. No one knows if the Irish are a lucky people, why leprechauns are supposedly at the end of rainbows, or why vast amounts of green beer are consumed on St. Patrick’s day, all that the Irish know is that their people, religion, and Celtic backgrounds have gotten them through the worst of times, and they are very proud to be able to pass them on to many generations to come.