By Cornelia de Bruin
Triplicate staff writer
St. Patrick's Day, the feast day celebrating Ireland's patron saint, is celebrated very differently on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
It's either a day of overindulging and claiming to be Irish, or a holy day of obligation that falls during the 40 days of Lent that begin on Ash Wednesday after Mardi Gras and end on Easter Sunday.
For many Americans, the former is the case. Revelers dress in green and head for bars to partake of Irish and other) beers and liquors.
But that's not how Irish-born Bryan O'Callahan, who became director of Del Norte Historical Society earlier this year, remembers the holiday. He immigrated to this country with his parents at age 13 and has visited his native country since that time.
"The Irish are a fiercely (Roman) Catholic people, so it is a celebratory event held within the confines of Lent," O'Callahan said.
The Roman Catholic Church requires its faithful to fast during that season of the church year. Some of its faithful give up leavened bread, meat and alcohol, although not all are required.
So the scene in Dublin on March 17 hardly is the same as the huge parades held in Chicago, New York City and many other American communities.
But O'Callahan said the advent of television and a chance to make money is altering Ireland's celebration of Saint Patrick's feast day.
"Many people go to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day, and the Irish are businessmen," he said. "They've realized that if the pagan tourists want to break their Lenten fast, well, we'll help them."
Regardless of whether a person is affiliated with a particular religion, practices it or not, however, he said that the celebration's namesake "changed the course of history."
"Without him Ireland would not be known as the land of saints and scholars," O'Callahan said "He is one of our saints; he converted the pagans here to Christianity."
Other famous Irish saints and scholars include Brendan, believed by many to have sailed a small vessel from Ireland to North America, Brigid of Ireland and Colum, known also as St. Colum-cille (of the churches) and St. Columba.
St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Trinity Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one person to the Irish by explaining the plant's shape of three leaves on one stem.
"Holy wells named after St. Patrick are everywhere in Ireland," O'Callahan said, referring to wells known for miracles or healings at the site.
"It seemed that he was everywhere and nowhere at the same time," he said.
In fact St. Patrick was not Irish, rather born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century.
He was taken to Ireland by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family's estate, and held in captivity for six years.
In loneliness, the son of a Christian deacon turned to his religion for solace, and became devout.
After he escaped he wrote that he heard a voice he believed to be God's telling him it was time to leave Ireland.
Walking nearly 200 miles to the coast, he escaped to Britain, returning more than 15 years later as a priest charged with a mission to minister to Christians and to convert the Irish.
Besides using the shamrock as a teaching tool, he incorporated root Irish beliefs into Christian celebrations.
He used bonfires to celebrate Easter because the Irish were accustomed to honoring their gods with fire, and superimposed a sun, itself a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross.
Although some claim St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland, the myth likely stems from hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.
Exaggeration may also have affected records of the length of the saint's life. Records indicate he lived from 373 to 493, which would mean he was 110 years old at his death.