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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wearing of the Green?

The Irish Presidential Standard 
(Golden Harp with Silver Strings on Background of St. Patrick's Blue)

Believe it or not, St. Patrick's Blue, not green, is the traditional color most often associated with St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick's Blue, is very often a dark blue. Before the 20th Century, St. Patrick was more often shown wearing blue garments than wearing the now celebrated green garb. Blue and gold it seems are historically the colors associated with Ireland and its ancient settlements.

This blue is officially the color which appears on the Irish Presidential Standard (the flag of the President of Ireland) and the Coat of Arms of Ireland. A blue and gold color scheme is said to represent "the Ancient Colours of Ireland." On the Badge of the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick with sky blue riband, the exact shade of blue varied over time.

 The Starry Plough, flag of the Irish Independence Movement at the Easter Uprising 1916

Green, the color most widely associated with Ireland, the Irish people and St. Patrick's Day in modern times, may have gained prominence through the phrase "the wearing of the green" meaning to wear a shamrock on one's clothing. The phrase probably originated as the title of an anonymously-penned Irish street ballad dating to 1798. The context of the song is the repression around the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1793.

"Oh! Paddy dear and did you hear the news that's going round,
 The Shamrock is forbidden by law to grow on Irish ground.
 No more St. Patrick's Day we'll keep, his colors can't be seen,
 For there's a cruel law against the wearing of the Green.

 "I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand, And he said
 'How's poor old Ireland and how does she stand?'
 She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen,
 For they're hangin' men an' women for the wearing of the Green."

According to Brad Hawkins, professor of religious studies, the change to Ireland's association with green rather than blue probably began around the 1750s as wearing green became known as a sign of Irish nationalism or loyalty to the Roman Catholic faith. According to legend, St. Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- three persons in one Godhead) to the pre-Christian Irish.

Wearing a shamrock in the hat was a sign of rebellion and green was the color of the Society of the United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary organization. During the period, displaying revolutionary insignia was made punishable by hanging.

 Badge of the Order of St. Patrick

Other Irish associations with the color green and St. Patrick's Day do exist. For example, Ireland is known as the Emerald Isle, a poetic name honoring its green countryside. Also, since green is typically thought of as the color of spring, and St. Patrick's Day is a spring holiday, this color has gained popularity. Even the Irish Leprechaun of legend is typically depicted as a mean little creature
wearing green. 

The green and gold that we traditionally think is most associated with the Irish saint and the Irish republic are centered around the use of the shamrock by Saint Patrick as a tool for Catholic catechesis to explain the nature of the Holy Trinity.

So Erin Go Bragh! But when you tip the traditional glasses of green beer, you rather might bow to tradition and squirt some blue food coloring in the glass. I guess it depends on the reason for drinking. Happy, St. Patty's Day, all.
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