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Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

| Friday, March 17, 2006

Images of shamrocks, green beer and a feast of corned beef and cabbage come to mind on St. Patrick's Day, but the real purpose of the day is to celebrate the life of a popular saint.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He is one of the most widely known figures in Christianity.

St. Patrick was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century to wealthy parents. At the age of 16, he was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family's estate and took him to Ireland.

During that time, he worked as a shepherd. After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped, walking 200 miles from where he was held and returning to Britain. Christians say Patrick reported that he experienced a revelation -- an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Patrick studied and was ordained a priest. He was sent to Ireland with a dual mission -- to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish who then practiced a nature-based pagan religion.

Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity.

For instance, he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.

Patrick is believed to have died on March 17 in about the year 460, which is the date Catholics, non-Catholics, Irish and non-Irish celebrate his story and the Irish tradition that followed.

That tradition included celebrating his life with a feast. It's a tradition that has carried over to America -- and is growing in popularity.

In America, the holiday is celebrated with large parties.

Shaun Wallace, owner of Rumors' Grille in Connellsville, said he's been making plans for St. Patrick's Day, one of the biggest party days of the year.

Wallace said the menu will include a traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage and other munchies.

In addition to good food, Wallace said an Irish bagpiper will be stopping by around 6:30 p.m. to entertain. Later in the night, a local band will perform.

"I try to go all out," Wallace said. "This is everybody's holiday."

Nancy Koller, owner of Nancy's Fancy Tea Room in Connellsville, is also hosting a traditional St. Patrick's Day dinner.

The menu will include the traditional corned beef and cabbage. Koller explained that though cabbage has long been an Irish food, corned beef became associated with St. Patrick's Day at the turn of the century, when Irish immigrants substituted corned beef for their traditional dish of Irish bacon to save money.

Also on Koller's menu is Irish Mulligan stew, which is a lamb or mutton stew with potatoes, onions, other vegetables and seasoning.

Koller also will serve Irish soda bread, which is a round bread made with buttermilk, molasses, raisins and caraway seeds. Another baked item on the menu will be Irish scones, griddle cake made of oats.

"I'm part Irish," Koller said, adding that the meal she plans on serving includes the same foods her mother made for the family when she was a child.

Koller's tea room will be decorated in green lights and shamrocks.

The shamrock's history dates back to St. Patrick. Legend says St. Patrick used the three leaves of the clover to illustrate the trinity -- the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The shamrock also was considered a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring.

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