Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Was Saint Patrick Italian?

Tomorrow is my birthday. I say this not to elicit well-wishes (though I always enjoy receiving them), but to muse on the experience of having been born on a day famous for another reason.

Being of Italian descent, I was on track, as baby girls of my persuasion usually were, to be named after one of my grandmothers (about which you have heard if you follow this blog). So I would likely have been called Sabina Maria or maybe Concetta after my maternal and paternal grandmoms. But when I debuted on March 17th, my parents chose Patricia for me.

Having Saint Paddy’s Day as a birthday has a lot of advantages. For one, people don’t forget. When shamrocks show up on supermarket windows and on mirrors behind bars in drinking holes, my friends and family all know my birthday is coming. Also, my day has a color. Green has been my favorite all my life. Luckily it suits me. And these days, unless people are talking about the machinations of Moammar Qadaffi, calling any product or process green is a huge compliment. Best of all, everyone celebrates. What other birthday but the 4th of July comes with a parade? When I was four years old, my uncle told me the march on Fifth Avenue was in my honor. Tomorrow midtown will fill up with revelers, giving my natal day a special jubilatory flair.

The only drawback for me has been that some Irish people have considered it a travesty that a Sicilian-Neapolitan-American should have chosen “their” day to be born. They think only people like my friend and fellow St. Patrick’s Day birthday holder Terrence O’Brien deserve to be born on March 17th. In the Catholic school cultural rivalries of my youth, I had to withstand a great deal of resentment—some of it not so benign. My brother Andy and my friend Danny Gubitosa leapt to my defense in a play-yard altercation one March 17th by claiming that St. Patrick was Italian—an assertion that only further enraged my detractors.

According to Wikipedia though, Danny and Andy were sort of right. Paddy was a Romano-Britain, and though the historical details of his life are sketchy, substantiated evidence reveals that as a 16 year old, he was abducted from Britain by Irish raiders and dragged off to Ireland to be a slave—not a very auspicious beginning for a relationship between Saint and faithful fated to endure for millennia. Patrick made it back home, and once ordained, he returned to Ireland as a missionary and prelate. The Irish still invoke him against snakes and witches.

Coat of Arms, Murcia
Why the following is true I leave you to ponder, but evidently St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated not only in Ireland and the Roman Catholic Archdioceses of New York and of Boston, but also in Nigeria, Montserrat, Loiza, a small town on the north coast of Puerto Rico, and Murcia, the capital of an Autonomous Community founded by Moors in the southeast of Spain.

Annamaria Alfieri


  1. We also celebrate it at our house, and we're Ulstermen.

  2. Henry, hope you enjoyed the day. I had a great time, and and I imagine the Nigerians, Loizians, and Murcians did too!