Snakes alive! Where have all the saints gone?

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Snakes alive! Where have all the saints gone?

WILL someone please tell me where have all the saints gone? Ireland once had more saints per acre than any country in the western world and they all seemed to have had their own wells, with crystal clear water and curative properties to boot – all of which should be of some interest now to Irish Water.

But even this beleaguered body doesn’t seem to want to have to resort to the saints.

Growing up in rural Ireland in the 1950s we were surrounded by ‘saints’: everyone was either a saint or a sinner, and nearly everyone I knew aspired to the status of the former. Now both species are more or less extinct and there’s no value anymore in being a saint, whatever about a sinner.

Secular Ireland is now hell bent on wiping the title from all aspects of public life, in deference to the sensitivities of non-believers and those who profess other ideas about God. They now want to remove the word ‘saint’ from the wards’ signage in our hospitals. No wonder the health service is in crisis!

St Bernadette’s ward is no more in one public hospital. It is now plain ‘Bernadette’s’, which wouldn’t really instil much confidence in anyone praying for a cure. Even St Jude has lost his title, although I doubt very much if any hospital anywhere was ever rash enough to name one of its wards ‘St Jude’s’.

Anyhow, I’m sick of all these sops to secular Ireland. I’m sorry if atheists feel uncomfortable about being lodged in a hospital ward named after a saint they don’t even acknowledge, but what about those of us who need the protection of the saints when we’re in trouble. The reality, of course, is that most of us would be too grateful to get off a trolley in the corridor and into a ward in the first place to be bothered about the sign on the door. But I, being afflicted with severe hypochondria, am inclined to storm heaven with prayers when I’m hospitalised and I have to say that I’d feel more secure if University Hospital Limerick had been called after a saint.

But things have changed since the saintly ‘50s when the nuns were in charge and nobody was ever left on a trolley.

In the primary school I attended, we were taught that Ireland really had only one canonised saint, and it wasn’t St Patrick, but St Lawrence O’Toole, the patron saint of Dublin. The Pale mentality existed then too! Anyhow we paid no heed to that. We canonised our own local saints. St Odhran was patron of the parish, and St Conlan held sway in the adjoining parish while St Chiara had a nunnery in the parish at the other side.

As I said, they all had their own wells with cures for everything from sore eyes to sore throats, and as far as I can recall, there were no hospital crises.

I’m writing this more or less on the eve of the feast day of St Patrick, now almost universally referred to by the derogatory title of ‘Paddy’s Day’. Is this another nod to the secularisation of Ireland or is it a deliberate ploy to make the national booze-up known as ‘drowning the shamrock’ more acceptable. I suppose I shouldn’t be quibbling because Patrick, with or without the title, may yet be the only saint to survive the secularisation of the Emerald Isle.

Meanwhile, the campaign continues. Traditional prayers are being abandoned at meetings of public bodies at the behest of trendy councillors who favour ‘a moment of reflection’. Are we codding ourselves? The only moments of reflection most of us ever have are when we glance in the mirror to see if we’re looking alright, or when we lift the phone to take a ‘selfie’.

I was born on St Patrick’s Day and named after him, so you could say that I have a personal interest in maintaining the feast day, as well as the faith.

The birthday doesn’t interest me anymore. But I wouldn’t want to see St Patrick dishonoured or secularised and I’d like to point out that the reason why we honour him in the first place is because he brought us the faith, not because he helped out in 1916 or because he went on to establish the Irish drinks industry.

This year’s St Patrick’s Day, now only days away, is filling me with particular trepidation because we want our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, to jet off to Washington, armed with the obligatory bowl of genetically modified shamrock, but without either a wing or a prayer. We want him to abandon all the graciousness and good manners that Patrick instilled in us, and square up to President Trump like the pagan prize fighter, Niall of the Nine Hostages. Anything less, according to some commentators would not only make Enda look like a lapdog, but would diminish the belligerent Irish who apparently don’t kowtow to anyone anymore, not even a saint.

In the meantime, I’m hoping someone might throw a spanner in the mounting secularisation of Ireland so that those of us who still believe that there is something far superior to ourselves in the universe and who are too modest to even harbour the suspicion that we might have made the world ourselves, would have our particular sensitivities acknowledged and deferred to, so that we can continue, without apologies to anyone, to recite the Litany of the Saints when we’re in trouble.