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Celebrating our Celtic cousins
What an amazing month March is, just as we are getting over St Andrew’s Day in November, then Robert Burns events in January-suddenly here we are in March-with not one but two special days to acknowledge and celebrate!
The first one comes very soon in the month. March 1st to be exact, for it is on this day that St David’s Day is celebrated. Who was St David and what exactly does he stand for? Well might you ask, as while he is the patron Saint of Wales, St David is not quite as well-known as another Saint who becomes very popular on the 17th of this month, St Patrick of Ireland. However, we do have some information on St David, one of these being the fact that he was born in Cardiganshire, and later became renowned as both a teacher and a preacher. He also became known as one who founded monastic settlements and churches in both Wales and Brittany. St David stands on the site of the monastery he founded in the Glyn Rhosyn valley of Pembrokeshire. St David, like many other Saints, also performed miracles. The best known of these seemingly, took place while he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd in a Welsh village. While doing this, a white dove suddenly flew down and settled on his shoulder, a spectacle felt by his followers to be “conceived as a miracle”.
After this St David used a white dove as his emblem. Yet St David lived a simple life, his monastic rule prescribed that monks should pull the plough themselves without draught animals. They should also drink only water and eat only bread with salt and herbs. Further, they should spend their evenings in prayer, while also reading or writing. No personal possessions were allowed. Even to say “my book” was considered an offence. St David also taught his followers to refrain from eating meat or drinking beer. His symbol also is the same as Wales, the leek. Referenced further from Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act V scene, when a Welshman addressed the King as follows: “The Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which we know is an honourable badge of service and we take no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day.” King Henry responded likewise, “I wear it for a memorable honour, for I am Welsh, you know good countrymen”. David lived for over 100 years and died on March 1st, now known as St David’s Day.
If the thought of a blustery, windswept March (for those in the Northern Hemisphere), doesn’t make you think of St Patrick’s Day, then the stores certainly will. From as early as mid-February, shamrocks, greeting cards, and “Erin Go Bragh” buttons will adorn store shelves, reminding us that our Irish celebration is just around the corner. On March 17th green beer will be sold in restaurants, green lines painted in the centre of streets, and Irish tunes played on the radio. It is indeed a great day for the Irish. But to look beyond the frivolity of St. Patrick’s Day, is to open a veritable Pandora’s box on the ancient Celtic culture, for it was during the Celt’s time that this day began. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, was born in Scotland of a British mother and Roman father. Later on he went to Ireland to teach Christianity to the pagan Irish. In doing so, he liked to use the shamrock with its three separate leaves coming from one spine as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
Patrick died on March 17th, 493, but to this day his name is closely associated with the little green shamrock. When Patrick first arrived in Ireland, the Celts were rather wild people. They roamed throughout Britain and Europe, spreading their customs wherever they went. History has told us that these were a strange people who, on the one hand were savage warriors, but on the other loved to adorn themselves in life, as well as in death, with ornaments. Much of their ancient jewellery has been retrieved from old graves and are now, virtually priceless pieces in museums across Britain and Europe.
Some of their matrimonial laws might be as acceptable in today’s society as they were at the dawn of civilization. For instance, if a woman were richer than the man she married, she automatically ran the household herself. But if the marriage broke up the woman was allowed to take her property and riches with her, without any interference from her spouse. The women were recognized as equal to men, even at war where they could fight alongside them if they so wished, the ancient Queen Boadicea stands testimony to this.
In spite of their reputation as barbaric fighters, the Celts were terribly afraid of some of their beliefs. Fairies, witches, warlocks and wizards were enough to strike fear into the most savage of Celtic hearts. Thus the night of Hallowe’en was by far the most sinister night of the Celtic year. For it was widely believed that this was the night the sun descended into darkness, fairy hills opened up and dead spirits roamed the earth casting evil where they may. It was indeed, a night to stay home. And yet not all of their beliefs were fearful, for it was the Celts who gave us the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. It is also due to the Celts that we have the festival ‘Midsummers Eve’, which is still celebrated in many parts of Britain today. The Celts themselves have long ago gone from this world. But they have left us much to remember them by. These include their ancient monuments Stonehenge being the most famous of all. It was during these days of the Celts, in another Ireland, that the first meaning and name of St Patrick’s Day arose.
Crossing over the years, as is so easy to do in print, we are reminded of yet another special happening in the past, the 75th anniversary of which takes place this month. I mention this as whilst it is by no means as holy as the forerunner of this article, it is however still something which today many people may still remember. The situation of which I speak is the Clydebank Blitz. Although it was a long time ago, I still believe there are those who can recall that terrible time in ours and Scotland’s life time. We revisit that terrible time in Scotland’s history in this edition and honour those impacted by those terrible events of March 1941.While I am certain those days were terrifying to millions of people, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the horror of war and pray together that we never experience that kind of horror again.
May we all enjoy another March with its two special days and thank you St Patrick and St David, two names from the past who we continue to honour today.
Are you celebrating St David’s Day or St Patrick’s Day? How do you think they compare with Scotland’s St Andrews Day? Tell us about your link to these great Celtic celebrations.