The Once a Year Irishman
By John Hunt
When I was growing up, my family would celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like any good Irish family does. We would eat corned beef dinners, hang shamrock decorations, and don ourselves in various green outfits and accessories. It didn’t matter how ridiculous we might look in our green penny loafers and shamrock lapel pins; we were Irish, b’golly, and it was therefore a cardinal sin not to conform to the wearin’ o’ the green.
To most people this might not seem that bad. After all, one should be proud of his or her heritage. And to be truthful, green wears pretty well on me. But that’s entirely beside the point; it’s the pretense that matters. And the pretense was that my entire childhood was a colossal ruse.
Well, ok, that may be a little melodramatic; but as I got older, I began to discover the dark truth about my family’s alleged Irish heritage.
First of all, as every self-respecting Irishman knows, the Irish are inherently lucky. It’s in the blood. The Hunt family, to my knowledge, has never been endowed with any measure of good luck. That’s ok, mind you; I’ve always said, "I got faith – I don’t need no luck." And besides, being blessed beats being lucky any day of the week.
However, the fact remained that spontaneous occurrences of good fortune seemed to always happen to people around me, but not to me. Naturally, I became suspicious.
My next clue was our surname. Now, the name "Hunt" is certainly a British Isle derivative – there’s no question about that. Somewhere, way back in my family’s lineage, we must have been a group of hunter/gatherers. Of course, today I do little more than hunt for the television remote, but that is another story altogether. Suffice to say, the name "Hunt" is not distinctly Irish. It would have been easier for me to accept the claim that we were Irish had we been bestowed with a surname like O’Brien, O’Leary, O’Connor, or even Oh, Henry (if you’re not a baseball aficionado or candy bar fanatic, forget that last one).
After some sleuthing, I discovered that my ancestors were mostly English and Welsh in origin. There’s not a single, discernable Irish branch within my family tree, at least none that I could tell. The truth of the matter had become plainly evident to me: I was an Irish imposter.
The revelation of my family’s façade was a little disconcerting to me, especially after being forced to eat corned beef and cabbage all of those years. That’s not to mention the closet full of green clothes and the countless "Shamrock Shakes" I slurped down at the local Scottish establishment, McDonald’s. But then I discovered something truly interesting during my investigation. I discovered that the venerable St. Patrick – loved and revered as the Patron Saint of Irish folk everywhere – was not originally from Ireland at all; he was from Wales.
Now before you get your ire up, shout "heretic," and pelt me with clover, hear me out. The man we have come to know as St. Patrick was born in Wales in AD 385 under the given name Maewyn Succat (good thing he changed it – "St. Maewyn Succat’s Day" just doesn’t have the same ring to it). He was the son of a Roman official and did not grow up a Christian at all, but rather, a Pagan. It was only after being sold into slavery to the Irish Celts at age sixteen that he repented and found God.
After six long years of slavery, Patrick managed to escape the British Isles and travel to Gaul to study in the monastery. During his twelve years in the monastery, he became aware of his calling to convert the Pagans to Christianity. This led him back to Ireland, since it was a hotbed of Pagan worship at that time. And by "hotbed," I mean literal hotbed, as Pagans would often offer up burnt human sacrifices to their "gods."
Patrick was appointed the second bishop of Ireland and began laboring diligently to established monasteries, schools and churches throughout the country. He became well known for his use of the native plant, the shamrock, to explain the Trinity to the Irish people. Patrick was persecuted for his stand for Christ and was often imprisoned; somehow, though, he always managed to escape. His testimony and example to the Irish people eventually won them over to Christ. He became so beloved by the Irish, in fact, that they adopted him as their own.
Well, I guess if the Patron Saint of Ireland wasn’t actually from Ireland, then it isn’t too awful that my family has insisted we were Irish all of these years. What’s really interesting, though, is that most true Irish folks I have met seem more than tolerant of us interlopers into their traditions. In fact, they even encourage everyone to join into their wonderful culture. It’s as if – at least on this 17th of March every year – we all become Irish for a day.
I couldn’t help but think of an interesting parallel in all of this. We are all born into this world with a desire to belong, a hunger to be accepted, or adopted, if you will. And there is another group of people who joyfully invite everyone to join into their fold. No, you don’t have to wear green sweaters or have a button that says "Kiss me, I’m…" to join this family. You just have to have a childlike faith. I’m talking, of course, about the family of God. Through the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are all offered into adoption as sons and daughters into this family. This adoption, however, isn’t just for a day, or even a lifetime; it’s forever.
One day, we will all be gathered at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. People from every tribe and nation will be there: Irish, English, Spanish, African, Asian, and so on – even the Heinz 57 variety like myself – all adopted sons and daughters of the King. All of us brothers and sisters will gather there, forever to be with our Lord.
And if they serve corned beef and cabbage that day, I won’t mind too much. Just pass me the Shamrock Shake, please.
John Hunt is a writer, husband, father, and once-a-year Irishman who lives near the extremely Irish city of Chicago, Illinois. He is author of the novel, In The Image of the Beast and the children’s book, The Mistaken Stone, both of which are awaiting publication.
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