St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland: Beyond Shamrocks and Green Beer
This post written by our resident Farm Steward – Emily Thomson
Within the current discussion of food policy and globalization is the idea of “food sovereignty”. Its basic premise is the right of peoples to define and control their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, as opposed to having the production and distribution of food driven by international market forces. The term was coined in 1996 by the group La Via Campesina, a trans-national coalition of organizations which advocates sustainable food systems and family-farm-based agriculture for an estimated 150 million people worldwide.
While food sovereignty addresses the modern effects of control by corporate business and financial entities over natural resources, technology and markets, oppression of the rural poor has been a part of the human condition since time immemorial. One fairly recent example occurred in nineteenth-century Ireland, when political and socio-economic factors combined with some unlucky biology to produce the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1849, altering the destiny of the Irish people to this day.
Ireland’s contribution to world culture has been crucial. As Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era, Irish monks and scribes maintained the historical record of the Western tradition. As libraries and learning on the continent were destroyed by the barbarian invasions which resulted in the Dark Ages, they copied manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, and taught them to subsequent generations. This little-known story is chronicled in Thomas Cahill’s 1995 book “How the Irish Saved Civilization”.
St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, but also the culture of literacy and learning which earned its reputation as “the isle of saints and scholars”. Beneath the misty sentiments surrounding the observance of St. Patrick’s Day, there lies a deep undercurrent of Irish heritage. The themes of exile, calamity, forbearance, strength and longing are common in Irish music and literature both ancient and modern. Yet the sense of humor (and irony) is legendary. William Butler Yeats, author of the dark poem “The Second Coming”, is also quoted as saying, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” That’s the Irish soul.