Tuesday, 17 March 2015

St Patrick and the O.K. Connection

St Patrick, while not the first evangelist in Ireland, was the most famous. By the time he was done at the end of the 5th century, Ireland had been converted to Christianity. Thanks to the spread of the Irish diaspora, he is famous throughout the world.

Less well-known is his Scottish connection. St Patrick was from somewhere in the west of Britain, and Old Kilpatrick, at the western end of the Antonine Wall and at the base of the Kilpatrick Hills, claims him as a son. (Although as his father was a bishop of Carlisle, the odds are higher that he was a Cumbrian.) Certainly however he wrote to Cortoticus the King of Strathclyde in his castle at Dumbarton, to lambast him for allowing newly Christianised Irish citizens to be captured and sold as slaves.

In the Kilpatrick Hills:

Given Patrick's connections to the West of Scotland, and the West of Scotland's large Irish community, it seems strange that St Patrick's Day is not a more notable affair. Beyond a festival in Coatbridge, largely unknown in the rest of Scotland, St Patrick's Day passes without comment.  

Perhaps the reason is historical. The religious wars of the 17th century and plantation of Ulster continues to cast a weak shadow over the West of Scotland even into the 21st century. The flying of Irish flags inevitably leads to a reaction of Union flags and a rejection of Irishness by antediluvian elements of Scottish society. It is not unknown for Scots who identify as Irish to be told not to be daft, they are Scottish. As if the two things are mutually exclusive.

But is this not hypocritical? Do Scots abroad not like to celebrate their ancestors' heritage? And is it not possible to live comfortably with more than one identity? Scottishness and Britishness, after all, commonly reside comfortably in the one body.

So let's celebrate the culture of all our immigrants and natives - whether Irish, British, Indian, European or whatever - and not fear the dominant culture is too small-minded to accommodate them all.

After all - St Patrick may well be one of ours!

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