By Trina Keane
Perhaps it’s the new spring light or maybe the sunny daffodils and primroses ribboning the roadsides and parkways but I’ve always felt a powerfully uplifting energy shift around the time of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland.
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a S.A.D. sufferer once the Christmas decorations have returned to the attic so this time of the returning light is precious to me. And how perfectly timed is the March 17th day of celebration near the spring equinox and the March full (worm) moon when the thawing earth delivers up nourishment in time to feed the early nesting birds.
As a child St. Patrick’s Day was so very welcome because children who had given up sweeets and chocolate for lent were excused their lenten promises for the day. We wore emerald green ribbons in our hair and sprigs of delicate shamrock as we headed off to church, after which we’d take the bus and join the cheering masses, waving flags and catching sweets being thrown from the floats at the city parade.
Once I’d learned to drive, my friend Carol and I would take off in my dad’s Volkswagon - the Blister Beetle we called it - and head to the Wicklow hills. We’d park on the roadside near the lakes of Glendalough and the ruins of the ancient monastic settlement of another early christian, St. Kevin. Nestled between two lakes and surrounded by steep wooded hills on all sides, an iconic round tower stretches up here, between the crumbling gravestones and chapel walls.
From our roadside vantage-point, young people would sit in and around their cars playing music and carrying rounds of drinks from the nearby pubs with the music of the celtic rock band Horslips and the unmistakable opening riff of Dearg Doom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5G8AJf4Xzw bringing everyone to their feet to joyously proclaim ourselves contemporary Irish. We were modern young men and women with heroes like Cuchulain, the Red Destroyer ( the Dearg Doom), to remind us that this now is our time to own the culture, the myth and the music of what came before us, and to us, down through the ages.
As the years pass I’ve noticed more and more that my calling on this day, is less a need to express my heritage through tribal gatherings and parades and more a returning to my roots, to something that goes back much further back than Patrick.
A bit like the ancient druids, I feel the desire to be with the trees and rivers and lakes. These days my celebration of the greenest day of the year is to spend time in nature, awakening after the dark months of winter to birdsong echoing through the canopy of a cathedral of trees. Being with trees was how our Druid ancestors lived and healed and drew spritual connection.
Each year, very early on the morning of the 17th of March come whichever season greets us (for St. Patrick’s Day is also known as the day of all four seasons), my family and I pack a picnic and head out once again to Glendalough not to sit in our car, as Carol and I in our youth found so liberating, but to immerse ourselves in the woodlands and lakes and take deep lungfulls of the fresh spring air.
This year more than ever our ancients would urge us to go to the trees. There is real healing in trees and the practice known as *'Forest Bathing' or 'Shinrin Yoku' is fast becoming an antidote, a social prescription if you like, to modern living in the age of technology. Trees emit plant essential oils to protect themselves called phytoncides. Studies show that inhaling these oils can boost your immune system for up to 30 days. And the practice of opening your senses mindfully to the sights, sounds, smells, touch and sensations of being immersed in a natural environment, reduces stress which in turn reduces inflammation and benefits the immune system.
In the graveyard at Glendalough, there is a remarkable celtic cross, carved from a single block of granite and said to date back to the 5th or 6th century. The celtic cross is the symbol which most expresses my roots, my connection to the ancients. For Patrick in his wisdom chose this cross to encourage the transition from the old to the new, blending the new Christian message of the son of God with the reverence held for the sun by the learned Druids who were the doctors, scientists and spiritual leaders of the time. The Christian cross overlays the sun circle.
Standing here for a few minutes I give thanks in the way Patrick did and in the way those who came long before him expressed their reverence and gratitude for the bounties of nature. I give thanks for the renewed flow of life-force which this spring day delivers within me, before me, behind me, beneath me, above me, on my right, on my left, and of course always within my heart.
This year, our schools have been closed and people have beeen asked to work from home if they can at all. As I write, gatherings of more than 100 people in closed spaces and 500 outdoors have been banned and our St. Patrick’s Day parades have been cancelled as a precautionary measure against the spread of Covid-19, now a global pandemic.
In this year that saw such catastrophic damage by fire to the forests of the Amazon and in Australia as a result of climate change, it’s ironic that on the greenest day of the year – St. Patrick’s Day – we will see the pubs, streets and airports of the Emerald Isle all but empty.
And yet this year, what could be more apt than to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by literally returning to our roots. Remembering that whatever else, wherever we find ourselves throughout the globe, we are a people with a profound connection to nature.
Perhaps after all, this year may be the greenest Paddy’s day ever.
*(For more information on Forest Bathing please visit Deborah Mendes The Nature Connector here https://natureconnection.world/listing/deborah-mendes-the-nature-connector/ )