Denis Lehane: Snakes, off-licences and other legends

St Patrick was a great man when it came to ridding Ireland of snakes.

Denis Lehane: Snakes, off-licences and other legends

My grand-uncle Murty, who lived a long, long time ago, was a good friend of our beloved patron saint, and told me a few years back what he was really like.

“I remember once,” said Murty “St Patrick and I were having a few jars in this old shebeen. ‘Twas the early hours, and we were in high spirits.

“Well, if we were, suddenly in comes the landlady herself, and she screeching like a banshee about the law being outside.

“‘Begone!’ she cried ‘Or ‘tis up in front of the magistrate we will be.’

“‘Now listen here, my good woman,’ says St Patrick to the hysterical creature.

“‘I’m St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and if I can’t have a pint or two with my good friend Murty in the middle of the night, ’tis a mighty sad state of affairs.’

“‘Don’t budge Murty, leave it to me,’ St Patrick demanded, before taking another fine big gulp from his creamy pint.

“If he did, in came the law, arresting us both, and shutting down the shebeen for good.”

It was after this upsetting episode, Murty told me, that St Patrick vowed to make drink available to the Irish male at all times. Hence the miracle of the off-licence.

“And what about the snakes?” I asked Murty, “why did St Patrick hate them so?

“Yerra,” laughed Murty, “I remember St Patrick once telling me this story, and I don’t know if it was true of false, for he was as bad a Behan himself for the yarns. But the story went something like this.

“Before St Patrick became a saint he was doing a line with the daughter of a big farmer.

“She was a lovely girl,by all accounts.

“Anyhow, with a date planned, St Patrick went to his bicycle only to find a snake had bitten a chunk out of the tyre. This was a time when snakes were everywhere in Ireland. We were plagued with them,” Murty explained.

“Anyway, as St Patrick stooped down attempting to repair the tyre, didn’t the very same snake crawl up behind him, only to bite him on the backside.

“St Patrick was now in great distress, rolling around the ground, roaring out words and phrases that were far from saintly.

“The planned evening of romance went by the wayside on account of the snake bites and when poor old St Patrick tried to explain all the girl, well she was having none of it. ’Twas then St Patrick declared war on snakes, vowing to rid Ireland of them once and for all.”

And even though St Patrick was a very old man by the time my grand-uncle knew him, he still carried around his shotgun just in case he came across a snake.

“So was it the conversion of the Irish, making drink available, or the removal of the snakes, that propelled Patrick to sainthood?” I once asked my grand-uncle.

“T’was none of the above,” was Murty’s reply. “He was presented with the badge of sainthood for his work with sheep.

“Saint Patrick was a slave to sheep for many years,” Murty explained, “and like many other fellows, didn’t make a penny for his efforts.

‘All sheep farmers’, Saint Patrick once said to Murty, ‘should be canonised’.

A truer word was never uttered.

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