“[G]hosts of dead men . . . have bequeathed a trust to us living men.” Patrick Pearse,
Patrick Pearse was an Irish Republican (one who sought independence from the British) during the Easter Rising–the failed insurrection in 1916 that preceded eventual independence for Ireland.
His full name–Patrick Henry Pearse–might lead us to assume that he is the namesake solely of the great American orator who called the Virginia Assembly to liberty or death. America’s Henry survived our rebellion. Pearse did not survive the Rising. He gave his all to it.
But there is an older Patrick of Ireland whom Pearse’s parents may also have had in mind as they named their new babe.
It was Saint Patrick who chased the snakes out of Ireland, the Irish say. But the Irish admit that serpents didn’t inhabit the Emerald Isle in Patrick’s day. The snakes in Patrick’s metaphor refer to pagan practices of ancient, pre-Christian days.
Among those pagan practices was human sacrifice.
Today, Ireland is a beautiful paradise for tourists. Small farms and large ones dot the countryside between a few big cities–growing cities as the young begin to abandon the rural for the urban and urbane–as the country reaches perceived heights of sophistication.
Ireland has come a long way from its pagan days and from its hungry days since the potato famine of 1845 and following. It’s now a land with a solid economy and a growing population. That growth is from immigration.
In 2017, the Republic of Ireland had the highest birthrate in the European Union–yet it was still below replacement levels. And that was before abortion became legal at the beginning of this year–an occurrence that seemed impossible to many even as it unfolded.
In Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change, 1970-2000, R. F. Foster includes a chapter entitled “How the Catholics Became Protestants.” That chapter explains the country’s shift from Catholic values to secular ones.
“The notion of Catholicism as indivisible from Irish nationalism and even from Irish identity might be counted as one of the casualties of the last thirty years’ cultural upheaval,” he writes.
Ireland has taken the same path other western countries have followed from a rejection of sexual license (including nonacceptance of contraception) to the embrace of LGBT sensibilities. From traditional marriage to a no-holds-barred free for all.
Legal abortion was another step on the path to today–although, unlike in America, abortion is limited to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, barring a risk to the mother’s health and the euphemistic “fetal anomaly”–a death sentence for the challenged at every stage of development. A human sacrifice to convenience, cost-effectiveness–ultimately to self.
Foster: “[T]here is a point at which a la carte Catholicism becomes a kind of Protestantism” (57). It’s the same point at which any Christian decides he or she knows best. Whatever our denomination, it’s when we follow our own way.
Hence, legal abortion in Ireland and the rest of the West. And so we abandon some children to death and others to a different kind of desertion.
Michael Brendan Dougherty is an American-born man who grew up hardly knowing his father who eventually married and built a family in Ireland. Dougherty’s mother instilled in her son a deep understanding of his Irish roots. The boy grew into a man who would relish his Irishness and seek a deeper bond with his father.
In My Father Left Me Ireland: An American Son’s Search for Home, Dougherty explains the shift of heart that’s happened in the West. In the past, we revered and appreciated those who came before us. Our humility in light of sacrifices they made on our behalf “leads to self-sacrifice in the present and new life and regeneration in the future. . . .
“When we do have children we so often have them as consumable objects, as part of our life-style choices. We do not receive them as gifts, as living things, inviolate and inviolable. We calculate about them, not worried over what we might give them, but what they take from us. . . .
“We are great consumers. We are useless as conservators. Useless in this way, we deepen the pattern, failing to have children, or failing the ones we have” (205-07).
Dougherty, however, has found humility and respect for those in the past. He is breaking the pattern in which he grew up. He and his wife together are raising two young children. He intends to pass Ireland onto them. But he will pass along more than that.
He is chasing away the snake of selfishness and embracing self-sacrifice.
The ghosts of Ireland’s Patrick speaks through Dougherty. “[T]he past reproaches the present on behalf of the future. . . The ghosts of a nation reproach the living on behalf of posterity” (204).
Those same ghosts of Ireland speak to us today–even those of us an ocean away in Dougherty’s America. They call to us to chase away the snakes of selfishness once more–to cleanse our land by washing ourselves in humility and self-sacrifice.
Dougherty quoting Pearse: “There is only one way to appease a ghost. You must do the thing that it asks you” (213).
18 Replies to “Snakes Return to Ireland”
I especially like this post because it is my homeland. Ireland is a beautiful country. Thanks
It is such a beautiful country indeed, Yvonne. Thanks and God bless!
I was unaware of this Ireland history, Nancy. And how sad the Irish have embraced the same detrimental practices of the western world. “…failing to have children or failing the ones we have.” Wow, what a thought for reflection from Dougherty. It’s beyond my comprehension how others do not see children as the gift they are.
It’s a lie from the enemy, Karen, that children are a burden rather than a gift. Thanks for your comments! God bless!
You have such an excellent grasp of history and how it all ties into faith, Nancy! Thank you for this!
Thank you, Jessica! God bless!
“When we do have children we so often have them as consumable objects, as part of our life-style choices. We do not receive them as gifts, as living things, inviolate and inviolable. We calculate about them, not worried over what we might give them, but what they take from us. . .”
Such a sad, but accurate quote!
I knew when I read it that it would be a foundational passage for a piece of writing. Such wisdom and insight there. Thanks, Ava. God bless!
Your posts are always interesting. Thank you.
Thank you, Melissa! God bless!
Thank you for sharing this spiritual history of Ireland. Well done! My husband is Irish, so I have read a number of similar accounts like those you have shared here. In addition, I have always been taken by the missionary, St. Patrick and the amazing ways God used him to transform a nation.
I read the sad news, not so long ago, about Ireland going the way of the western countries, stepping away from God’s Word and God’s truth about life. I pray that eyes will be opened and the clarity of vision be restored.
Thank you for shedding light on this through the lens of another culture. Lord have mercy on us all.
Amen, Melissa. There seems to still be light in Ireland. More on that soon. May God transform our nations once more. Thanks and God bless!
I love how you said he is breaking the pattern in which he grew up by teaching his children differently. We may not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but we can teach truth to the next generation!
Yes, we can, Emily, and when we do that, we shine light beyond our reach. Thanks and God bless!
Thank’s Sister for the history lesson, and great post. God Bless
Thank you, Stephen! God bless!
Nancy, I so appreciate your understanding of how Ireland has grown and changed . . . and “transformed.” It’s sad that Ireland has followed in the footsteps of so many other western nations. The history Ireland has, the growth they’ve experienced seems like it will end up setting them back in ways they can’t yet imagine.
Your post is thought-provoking and insightful.
That seems to be the way Ireland is going, Jeanne. But there is reason to hope too. Much light has shone throughout the land from Patrick to the monasteries to faithful churches today. There is still some light shining in Ireland. Thanks and God bless!