Cormac MacConnell: Long suffering curse of Saint’s disapproval

As the green dust settles, and the austere old patron saint of the island shuffles away from the national and international spotlights for another year, I summon up all my courage, to confess I am delighted he has disappeared from the headlines for a while.
Cormac MacConnell: Long suffering curse of Saint’s disapproval

I am trembling in my shoes to publicly state this, and I may be stricken down stone dead before next Thursday, for the commission of a mortal sin of this magnitude. But frankly, I don’t give a curse. I couldn’t care less. There are times in life when you have to stand up and be counted.

I have never venerated or liked or respected Saint Patrick the Scotsman, for a whole host of good reasons.Yet again, that is the pure truth.

I firmly believe the one-time slave shepherd, originally from an elitist Latin-speaking family in the Scots lowlands, before his kidnapping, does not much like me or my lifestyle either.

I feel he fundamentally disapproves of all of us. I picture him shuddering in some austere corner of Paradise, especially this past week, when his fabled shamrock is drowned by millions of pints of porter and jiggers of hard whiskey all over the world.

He does not like that at all, not that joyous celebration with which we mark his patronage. There is no craic in him, nor ever was.

When you get right down to basics, I am certain he would confess to being more than a little bit ashamed of the whole lot of us, for being the way we are, despite his best efforts all those centuries ago, when he came with a long face to Tara to overthrow the old druids and banish the snakes.

There is much more to it than that. We lose billions in potential tourism revenue, because his feast day is pitched in the middle of March, rather than in midsummer, and most of the overseas visitors who are bold and brave enough to attend the parades are usually so drenched with rain or chilled to the bone they vow never to return to Ireland again.

March is also the month when the alleged Emerald Isle is much more gray than green. It is nearly as harshly bleak and chilled as in that dreadful first fortnight of January or the end of November.

That reality costs our tourism industry a lot of money.

On a personal note, I can state without fear of contradiction that Saint Patrick’s penitential legacy has robbed me of at least two good years of the rest of my life. I will briefly explain why, too.

If you were born where I was, in the North West decades ago, the time inevitably came in your early teens when you had to sit the State school examination up there, the equivalent of the Inter Cert down here.

No sooner had you concluded the gruelling week of tests than your mother, seeking divine assistance, dispatched you on the bus to Saint Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg in South Donegal, for three days of barefoot starvation without sleep or comfort of any kind. That Purgatory is really a painful spartan kind of Hell, and that is the pure truth yet again.

Your bare feet swell up from walking around the circular stone that marks the foundations of the cells of the ancient monks. The only nourishment is black tea and hard toast, you don’t get near a bed for a whole day.

The night before, you mumble a million prayers and renounce the World, the Flesh and the Devil, as you stand with your back against the Basilica wall at two or three o’clock in the morning.

The swarms of midges eat you alive, and maybe the worst torment of all is the aroma of the rashers being cooked for the resident clergys’ breakfast. If the genuine Purgatory is any worse than Lough Derg, then do your best to avoid it at all costs.

But that is only half of the sufferings this poor soul has had inflicted upon him down the years by Saint Patrick.

For 20 years, I served the good old Irish Press as its western correspondent, and every year without fail, I had to report on the annual climb of Croagh Patrick outside Westport, on what they called Reek Sunday.

Tim Pat Coogan, the Editor, insisted that his reporter should climb the bloody Reek to the summit, rather than reporting from below.

In the early years, the tens of thousands of pilgrims, some of them barefoot, incredibly, ascended during the hours of darkness.

If it was hard going getting to the oratory on top, it was even worse coming back down, because the scree slid away underfoot, and you could easily build up too much speed and crash painfully.

Over the years, I suffered nearly as much on that Mayo mountain as our patron saint ever did on Sliabh Mish.

And he had only to sit on his backside and look after a few sheep. I had to survive the climb, and them get back into Westport to find a wind-up phone that would transmit my story back to the newsroom in Dublin. It never took me less than three days to recover from the ordeal.

Ye can see then, why Saint Patrick is far from being my favourite saint. Back then, before the breathalyser, you could stop for a healing pint in Partry on the way back home to Galway.

Any time I did that, I quite honestly could sense his disapproval from behind me on the high stool. The message was that we were put on this island to suffer.

I have been lucky to survive this long. Hopefully, after this criticism, I will still be here next week. If I am not, ye will know what befell me.

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