St. Patrick's Day: Beyond the stereotypes

March 17, 2012

Anyone who has already met Patrick Rawson can tell you that he is a man known for his soulful nature and reflective musings.

While his red hair and twinkling eyes belie his Irish birth, Rawson is also now a true twining of traditional Irish and contemporary American sensibilities.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day on March 17, we asked this local, Irish-born "Patrick" to share his perspectives on the happy holiday that we American cousins have claimed for our own.

In Ireland, where Rawson lived until age 6 and has returned to 10 times since, St. Patrick's Day is still very much a religious holiday.

Imagine, if you will now, a soft edge and a lilting Irish accent in Rawson's responses.

"Both the Catholics and Protestants there claim St. Patrick as their own - as the founder of Irish Christianity," said Rawson. "He came to Ireland from Wales as a boy, enslaved by the Irish when he was around 16." St. Patrick was born just before the year 400.

March 17 marks the day of St. Patrick's death, in honor of a lifetime spent successfully weaving Christian and Celtic cultures together.

"It is a day off for nearly everyone. There are many sporting events and lots of Irish people come home - make pilgrimages home - to celebrate on the day. There are huge parades and well, no, the pubs are not closed.

"Patrick spent six years as a slave after having been abducted from his comfortable life. The name Patrick comes from the word 'patrician,' meaning he had been from a wealthy family.

"While in captivity, he heard God's voice call him towards a waiting boat and he escaped back to his home," said Rawson. "But once home, he felt called to return, to bring his Christian beliefs to the Irish, his former captors."

The famous Irish symbol, the three-leaf clover (yes, three) was used by Patrick to help teach the Christian concept of the trinity of God.

"The four-leaf clover? Well, that is not what you see in Ireland. St. Patrick used the three-leaf clover, a native plant, for his teachings and that is what Irish people see as an important symbol."

"The great thing about St. Patrick is that he did not go there to destroy, but to affirm what was holy in the native Irish culture."

Through two remaining original letters written by St. Patrick himself, the story of his slavery and subsequent calling to spread Christianity has been documented.

"He wrote an incredible prayer, St. Patrick's Prayer, which is beautiful and imaginative in its celebration of creation. He had a very earthy spirituality, very unlike the Roman-style of Christianity that he had grown up with," said Rawson.

Growing up in Limerick, Ireland amidst a family with 10 brothers and sisters, Rawson, after coming to the U.S., has maintained a deep connections to the rich and sophisticated heritage and culture of Ireland.

When asked about the U.S.-style celebration Rawson said, "I would like the focus to be less on the green beer and the leprechauns, and maybe more on celebrating the music, poetry and storytelling that Irish culture is noted for.

"It would also be great if people read St. Patrick's Prayer and spent a bit of time reflecting on how it speaks to them … maybe pray for the people of Ireland and their struggles."

But Rawson is not singularly serious. He plans on a bit of St. Paddy's celebrating himself and invites anyone to join him and his band, Barley Draught, as they play traditional Irish music in the Gorge.

The eight-piece group can be found Friday, March 16, at the Thirsty Woman in Mosier and Saturday, March 17, at 5 p.m. at Clocktower Pub in The Dalles followed by a joint gathering at St. Peter's Landmark Church after 7 p.m. On Sunday, March 18, they'll be back again in Hood River at 3 p.m. for a show at Dog River Coffee.

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