Shades of green

A native take on St. Patrick’s Day

New York City held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade way back in 1762, but as Dublin-born Annmarie McConnell — owner of My Native Ireland (12 Battery Park Ave.) — points out, the holiday’s real roots lie buried deep in ancient pagan practices.

“St. Patrick’s Day has traditionally been a day when we celebrate [the advent of] Christianity [in Ireland] … but, like most of the Christian holidays, these celebrations were built on the back of the pagan rituals they replaced,” she explains.

In Dublin this year, St. Patrick’s Day will actually extend into a full week of festivities, McConnell reports. It’s all part of a hyped-up millennial celebration including five days of live performance art, massive fireworks (sure to expel any snakes St. Patrick may have overlooked when he was battling serpents, so many centuries ago), plus the requisite parades, music and dancing.

McConnell says she’s excited about how the Irish are stretching their roots to fit within the 21st century.

“Once again, we find the ancient and new living side by side,” she muses. “When one thing evolves and changes into another, it does not necessarily mean the death of the old, but perhaps [a] rebirth.”

That’s a theme McConnell strives to reproduce in her shop, where traditional Celtic designs resurface in contemporary handmade gifts. And, this St. Patrick’s Day, My Native Ireland has crafted its own smaller-scale version of the mother country’s ambitious shenanigans, offering free T-shirts to the first 20 customers of the day, and hosting live Irish music. Upholding another tradition, McConnell also invites anyone who spends more than $50 in the store on March 17 to enjoy a free drink at Jack of the Wood.

“As the Christians among you know, St. Patrick’s Day falls right in the middle of Lent. In Ireland, people have been known to ‘give up the drink’ for Lent,” she explains. But to stave off the horror of a dry holiday, the wily Irish long ago created the custom of Patrick’s Pot (read: any liquid-holding receptacle), which ensures that the otherwise devout can safely drown their willpower on this national holiday.

“One can drink as much as you like — or, indeed, [as you] can — from Patrick’s Pot, and it’s not considered breaking your vows,” she promises.

Celtic Ireland tour

Frankie Kelly wants to introduce people to a new kind of vacation. To do it, though, he has to take them to some of the oldest spots in the world.

Kelly — who sponsors an annual summer Celtic tour of Ireland with his wife, Susan Reed — laments that today’s vacations have become nothing more than a desperate attempt to flee the daily grind, a literal “vacating” of body and spirit, during which people’s only intent is to “leave work behind and do absolutely nothing.”

Taking a cruise, or traveling to an exotic locale and vegging out in a hotel the entire time, might sound like a well-earned escape; but when a vacation’s only aim is to numb sizzled nerves, people overlook opportunities for deeper healing, he believes.

For those who want to return home truly changed, Kelly (a native of County Leitrim who now lives near Boone) guides willing adventurers straight to the heart of ancient Ireland. The Celtic Ireland Tour visits pre-Celtic, Celtic and early Christian sites, including ruins that predate the Egyptian pyramids by 500 years.

Points of special interest include Glendalough, a sixth-century monastic site; a tour of Yeats country; and a stop in Kelly’s own hometown. There, Americans can meet “the real people of Ireland,” Reed notes; the trip includes educational excursions to area pubs, where participants may imbibe pints of Guinness together with the stylings of local performers.

Tours are kept small, to enhance the trip’s intimate feel, and Kelly isn’t shy about praising the lasting benefits of this unique undertaking: “It can be a healing experience, a journey to refresh and massage the soul.”

To learn more about the Celtic Ireland tour, call Journeys, Inc. Travel Center at 232-0800.

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