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This is the birthday of Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, and in passing we may note that in company with us throughout the civilized world, wherever the sons of the Gael may wander, the praises of Saint Patrick are sung and the story of his life and teachings are told.
The seventeenth day of March is a day that will ever be celebrated by the sons of Erin whether under the open dome of Ireland's sky, in the dark recesses of her glens and caves, or in the temples and halls of fame of foreign lands. The seventeenth day of March is Ireland's great national holiday. It is a day that has a tender significance to every Irish heart. It is a day that has come to indicate and suggest to the Irish mind the time when Ireland and her people were freed from the bonds of paganism and superstition; the time when Ireland was one of the great centers of intellectual activity in Europe; the time when Ireland was called the “land of saints and scholars;” the time when the sons of Erin were happy, contented and free. It is a day that suggests and recalls to the Irish mind the time when Ireland was the “Niobe of nations.” It suggests the tear-stained, blood-stained tragedy of the Irish race—the long, sad struggle of a people for liberty and independence; the long, sad struggle of a people to maintain the faith that Saint Patrick implanted within their breasts. Yes, it is a day that has come to serve as an inspiration for the future and it gives rise to the fond hope in the breast of every Irish heart that Ireland may soon again become a free and independent nation.
We celebrate Saint Patrick's day above all other days because Saint Patrick reared the cross of God on Erin's soil; because he lit the fire of the Christian faith in the Irish breast never to flicker or die out; because Saint Patrick symbolizes the Irish ideal of true manhood; his lowly birth and beginning, his life, his humility, his works and his teachings have served and will ever serve as an inspiration for devotion, fidelity, courage and true Christian charity to the Irish race.
There is also another reason why we celebrate Saint Patrick's day, and why we recall the part that Ireland and her sons have played in the world's history: To tell the story of Ireland to the people of the civilized world in order that they may appreciate and have before them the injustice Ireland has suffered in order that Banquo's ghost may not down and in order that England in this enlightened age, bowed in sorrow and shame, may at last repent and endeavor to make at least partial reparation for her sins against the Irish people.
History tells us that Saint Patrick in about the year 400 A. D., came to Ireland as a slave; that he was employed as a shepherd herding sheep on her mountain sides: that he learned to love her cheerful, true and simple people; that he escaped to the continent where he prepared himself and returned to Erin as an apostle of Christ to convert the people, whom he had learned to love, to Christianity without shedding a single drop of blood.
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At the time Saint Patrick came to Ireland, she was a pagan nation, though her people were possessed of a certain loftiness of mind and worship, and had reached a high state of culture and civilization. Saint Patrick indeed found a fertile soil in the keen, sharp and receptive mind of the Celt in which to sow the seeds of the true Christian faith. The result of Saint Patrick's fruitful mission to Ireland is too familiar to you to warrant repetition. You remember how he Christianized her people, how he met the Druids, the learned priests of Paganism, and the King of Ireland on Tara's Hill and here explained to them the true Christian faith, and expounded to them the doctrine of the Trinity, using as an illustration, the three-leaf Shamrock. which was ever afterward to be a sacred emblem of the Irish people: how he then lit the flame of Christianity upon the altar of God which has remained burning steadily throughout the centuries, dispelling the surrounding darkness and sending its civilizing beams to the uttermost parts of the earth.
The centuries immediately following the advent of Saint Patrick to Erin were prosperous ones for her people. She was known as the land of Saints and scholars. Her schools and colleges were famed the world over, She was in fact, one of the great centers of intellectual activity. Her learned monks carried the celestial banner of Christianity to the continent and to her sister island, England. Her teachers were sought in the leading institutions of learning of the time. Charlemagne, who had reared his great empire on the ruins of mighty Rome, sought out the Irish scholars and teachers and appointed them to positions of honor and responsibility in his court.
While her people were quietly engaged in peaceful educational pursuits and in furtherance of the arts and sciences: when the pen had supplanted the sword; the Danes, a band of marauders and barbarians of the North, like the Huns of Eld, crushed down upon her like a mighty avenging fury; destroyed, sacked and pillaged her churches and her temples, laid waste her fields and impaired her industries. But her people were undaunted, and with the faith of Saint Patrick in their heart and the determination to be free, a united Irish people rose up in their might and drove the enemy from their borders in the year 1014 on the field of Clontarf, under the leadership of the mighty Brian Boru. But the influence of the Danes left its traces on Irish civilization and in her weakened condition, Ireland with her life blood sapped; her institutions of learning in ruins: her fields laid bare; began slowly to recoup her lost fortunes. Her people, somewhat disunited, but filled with sincerity, simplicity and truth, unaccustomed to the treachery, deceit, intrigue and bad faith of her British brethren, fell a prey to the siren guile and serpent guile of Henry II, their pretended friend in the year 1171. Then followed the tear-stained, bloodstained tragedy of Erin's sons—the terrible slaughter by Cromwell at Drogheda. Her very hills and valleys echoed with the wails and moans of a starved, dying and depressed people. Her very soil reeked with the innocent blood of her sons.
During these dark days in Erin, there appeared on the scene of action heroes, priests, patriots, statesmen and martyrs whose loyalty, bravery and courage astounded the world—her Hugh O'Neils; her Patrick Sarsfields; her Father Murphey's; her Wolf Tones; her Lord Fitzgeralds; her Edmond Burkes: her Robert Emmets; her Daniel O'Connells: her William Smith O'Briens: her Thomas Francis Meaghers; her Michael Davitts and her Charles Stewart Parnells.
The history of the dark days of Erin are doubtless familiar to you all. Her penal laws; how her representatives of God were haunted like wolves; her lands taken from her sons: oppression unbearable; tyranny unspeakable: Ireland oppressed by her brethren of Britain without right or reason; robbed of her lands and possessions: robbed of her homes and her firesides. Ireland, who had a glorious history “ere England had emerged from British barbarism.” Her sons forbidden by law to wear the green Shamrock, their sacred emblem: with unselfish devotion to a principle and to the Faith of their Fathers, and with that courage, sacrifice and fidelity symbolized to the Irish mind by Saint Patrick, began their march westward. In the words of the poet:
“But if at last our color should be torn from Ireland's heart,
Her sons with shame and sorrow from the dear old Isle will part:
I’ve heard a whisper of a country that lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal in the light of equality.”
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