New Zealanders have a soft spot for St Patrick; I put it down to the snakes.
I arrived in New Zealand some 40 years ago and one thing that struck me then, which still seems to hold true today, is the large number of Kiwis who are afraid of snakes.
Obviously, a fear of snakes, like a fear of, say, sharks, is not entirely irrational. Snakes seldom perform beneficial acts of kindness; they rarely receive medals for gallantry (and would have nowhere to pin them if they did). And there’s that whole bitey poisony thing. Not a good look at all.
However, compared to – using the example I know best – England, which is actually home to a poisonous snake, vastly higher numbers of people here harbour quite a serious fear of snakes.
I have always assumed this is because of the very absence of them. After all, Kiwis are taught from birth that these are animals so dangerous that not even zoos house them.
So it’s fairly predictable that New Zealanders would feel a certain warmth towards St Patrick. After all, this is the man who rid Ireland of snakes.
Legend has it
The most familiar version of the legend comes from Jocelyn of Furness, who says that the snakes were banished by Patrick chasing them into the sea after they attacked him on top of a hill while he was engaged in a 40-day fast.
*Fun fact: Jocelyn of Furness was actually a bloke, who wrote half-a-dozen Lives of The Saints, way back in the 12th century. Celebrity biographies eh? Times don’t really change much, do they?
Somewhat unsurprisingly, many think the snake story not entirely true.
“At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland, so there was nothing for St Patrick to banish”, says grumpy-guts Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at Dublin’s National Museum of Ireland.
*Fun Fact 2: The snakes, people think, were a metaphor for druids, who Patrick is said to have driven out of Ireland when he established Christianity.
Oddly enough, until not long ago St Patrick’s Day was mostly celebrated by folk outside of Ireland - particularly those sentimental Irish-Americans. It was only in the mid-1990s that the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use St Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture.
Thus the first (one day) St Patrick’s Festival was held in 1996. It’s now a week long blow-out attended by over a million people.
And what’s happening here?
On St Patrick’s Day (Sunday, March 17) the original Blarney Boys, Andy Craw and Robbie Laven, are reuniting at Jack Dusty’s Ale House in Bureta from 3pm. They’re also promising bagpipes and Irish dancing.
Meanwhile over at The Mount, The Rising Tide is offering green beer, Irish dancing and music all day, including the Mauao Crazy Choir and DJ Brutus Powers.
Of course you don’t need to wait until Sunday. Excellent local folkies The Whittakers, whose debut album I reviewed a few months back, are playing on Saturday (March 16) at Greerton Village Fayre - a celebration of all things vintage and retro with a little steampunk thrown in for good measure.
This is the third year of the Fayre, which takes place at Greerton Village School on Chadwick Road and runs from 10am ‘til 2pm. You can catch The Whittakers on the school rotunda from 10am.
There’s also a special St Patrick’s Day race meeting at Tauranga Racecourse, with a pop-up Guinness bar and music from Irish band The Wild Clovers.
And, before finishing, I wanted to put in a quick plug for gigs happening at The Jam Factory at The Historic Village next week.
They are David Shanhun and Matt Glass and the Loose Cannons on Thursday (March 21); Stretch on Friday (March 22); and The Packhouse Experience, featuring Archie Clark, Grant Bullot of Kokomo, Tuesdays Pilgrim, NutnSpecial, and The Schmoo on Saturday (March 22). A Google search will reveal the necessary details.
As I described it a few weeks back, this is the venue Tauranga didn’t know it needed. It’s good to see it being so well-used.