Tuesday 2 August 2011

32 - 'Patrick lit up a fire'

St. Patrick's Day parade, 2009, Downpatrick, Co. Down

March 16, 2011

We have another great talent here in Belfast, a man who has written many a humorous piece of verse, including the famous, 'Diagonal Steam Trap', and other poems - Crawford Howard.

And he also wrote one called, St. Patrick and the Snakes - here it is:

You've heard of the snakes in Australia
You've heard of the snakes in Japan,

You've heard of the rattler - that old Texas battler
Whose bite can mean death to a man.
They've even got snakes in old England -
Nasty adders all yellow and black -
But in Erin's green isle we can say with a smile,
They're away... and they're not coming back!

Now years ago things was quite different
There was serpents all over the place.
If ye climbed up a ladder ye might meet an adder
Or a cobra might leap at your face,
If ye went for a walk up the Shankill,
Or a dander along Sandy Row,
A flamin' great python would likely come writhin'
And take a lump outa yer toe!

Now there once was a guy called St. Patrick,
A preacher of fame and renown
An' he hoisted his sails and came over from Wales
To convert all the heathens in Down.
And he hirpled about through the country
With a stick and a big pointy hat,
An' he kept a few sheep that he sold on the cheap,
But sure, there's no money in that!

He was preachin' a sermon in Comber
An' getting quite carried away
And he mentioned that Rome had once been his home
(But that was the wrong thing to say!)
For he felt a sharp pain in his cheek-bone
And he stuck up a hand 'till his beak
And the thing that had lit on his gob (an' had bit)
Was a wee Presbyterian snake!

Now the snake slithererd down from the pulpit
(Expectin' St. Patrick to die),
But yer man was no dozer - he lifted his crozier
An' he belted the snake in the eye,
And he says to the snake, 'Listen, legless!
You'd better just take yerself aff!
If you think that that trick will work with St. Patrick
You must be far worser nor daft!'

So the snake slithered home in a temper
An' it gathered its mates all aroun'
An' it says, 'Listen, mates! We'll get on our skates,
I reckon it's time to leave town!
It's no fun when you bite a big fella
An' sit back and expect him to die,
An' he's so flamin' quick with that big, crooked stick
That he hits ye a dig in the eye!

So a strange sight confronted St. Patrick
When he woke up the very next day.
The snakes with long faces were all packin' their cases
And headin' for Donegal Quay.
Some got on cheap flights to Mallorca
And some booked apartments in Spain.
They were all headin' out and there wasn't a doubt
That they weren't going to come back again.

So the reason the snakes left old Ireland
(An' this is no word of a lie),
They all went to places to bite people's faces
And be reasonably sure that they'd die.
An' the oul' snakes still caution their grandsons,
'For God's sake beware of St. Pat!
An' take yerselves aff if you see his big staff,
An' his cloak, an' his big pointy hat!'

As I've said before, a lot of the stories we hear about St. Patrick was made up long after he died - for instance, the idea of him chasing the snakes out of Ireland.  There weren't any snakes, but there was a pretty evil Druid religion in control here at that time - and Patrick was bold enough to confront them on the very day of the main Druid feast.  

He picked the Hill of Slane - very close to the Hill of Tara, where the High King ruled and where the Druid celebration was to begin - and, contrary to the royal command, that no fire was to be lit on that night, he lit a bonfire - bringing him immediately to the attention of the Ard Ri, the High King, Laoghaire, his Druids and all the cheiftains of Ireland, who demanded an explanation.

The result of Patrick's defence of the gospel was that Laoghaire, although not becoming a convert himself, gave Patrick permission to preach throughout Ireland.  As the Druids had feared, the flame lit by Patrick would never go out!

I wrote a song some years ago about this confrontation and its outcome - it's called, Let the Flame burn:

A man on a hill, 
Flaming torch in his hand;
The whole land lies still, 
By the High King's command;
No-one dares 
To put flame to a pyre,
But Patrick lit up a fire.

Let the flame burn throughout our country;
Let young and old obey His command;
Let the world know we love one another;
Oh Lord, visit our land.

Now the High King, 
With his Druids around him,
Commands, 'Bring him here, 
Who dares challenge my word;'
Patrick came 
And proclaimed Jesus Christ, 
King of kings and Lord of lords.

Let the flame burn throughout our country;
Let young and old obey His command;
Let the world know we love one another;
Oh Lord, visit our land.

Well now Patrick is dead, 
And the saints and the scholars
Are all laid to rest, 
But the Spirit remains;
All we need is a breath of that fire
And we can re-kindle the flames.
Let the flame burn ...

Let the flame burn throughout our country;
Let young and old obey His command;
Let the world know we love one another;

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