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Global greening legacy must have meaning

Comment & Opinion

GREEN DAY Students from Swinford’s Scoil Muire agus Padraig were among the many Mayo students who took part in last week’s global protest against government inaction over climate change.

IF there was ever a county in which it was appropriate to celebrate the Christian and cultural legacy of St Patrick, Mayo is the one. Its lands hold a treasury of natural and built heritage, a veritable celebration of our ancient past.  
Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick, attracts over 100,000 climbers and pilgrims annually. The ancient chariot route, the Tóchar Phádraig – along which Patrick is reputed to have made his way to the mountain for his 40-day fast in 441 AD – has become a significant pilgrim path. It’s even called the Celtic Camino these days, as people increasingly search for spiritual meaning in the great cathedral of the outdoors.
The ancient Rock of Boheh, off the Leenane Road to Westport, is but one of these archaeological treasures. The origins of its rock-scribing may be Megalithic but the Christian story claims that Patrick stopped here and celebrated Mass, en route to the holy mountain.
When Pope Francis visited Knock Shrine last August, Father Frank Fahey, the longtime priest of Ballintubber Abbey (where Patrick established a church), celebrated Mass at the Boheh Rock, thus replicating Patrick’s Mass and weaving a symbolic thread to our ancient past.        
In north Mayo, one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s most dramatic discovery point’s, Downpatrick Head, also tells a rich the mythological tale about the shepherd of Slemish Mountain. There, the imposing sea stack known as Dún Briste is associated with the battle Patrick reputedly had with the pagan god, Crom Dubh. Tales abound of Patrick’s exploits and wanderings, from Slane to Armagh, the Rock of Cashel to Lough Derg in Co Donegal.
But now some 1,700 years later, how relevant and real is our interpretation of his message? The globe may be greened from the Chicago River to the Sydney Opera House confirming how this little island punches above its weight culturally, if not economically as our former Taoiseach Enda Kenny suggested.
But is that not the nub of the case? Is St Patrick’s Day not now a cultural festival with little to do with religion anymore? Or is the fact that so many communities in villages, towns and cities come together to celebrate their identities in colourful parades part of our cultural Catholicism and underpinned thus by the less-formal strands of our religious legacy?
Both our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and our President Michael D Higgins stressed the importance of inclusivity in speeches made in Washington and from Áras an Uachtaráin over the weekend. Such inclusivity was part of St Patrick’s message as he rose from the shackles of an enslaved Slemish shepherd to his pioneering role as a Catholic apostle. Perhaps this is the cross-millennial thread we should embrace.    
The Taoiseach’s speech had global resonance for the LGBT community as he addressed a breakfast hosted by the deeply conservative US vice president, Mike Pence. Opining that he once lived in a country where his sexual orientation would have been illegal, Mr Varadkar said: “I stand here this morning as leader of my country, flawed and human, but judged by my political actions and not by my sexual orientation or my skin tone or my gender or religious beliefs.
“And I don’t believe my country is the only one in the world where this story is possible. It is found in every country where freedom and liberty are cherished. We are, after all, all God’s children.”
Meanwhile, the poignancy and prescience of our secondary school pupils who protested last Friday in their thousands about the issue of climate change was addressed by President Higgins. Referring to the fact that the colour green was strongly associated with St Patrick’s Day, he said: “Today the word green has now become profoundly linked to the protection of our environment and the challenges we face in preserving the planet for our own and future generations.”
We must therefore ‘embrace our responsibilities as global citizens and play our own personal and essential role in saving our planet and our environment’, President Higgins said.
A message that Saint Patrick would be proud to preach.