WOSTER: The 'unlikely tale' of snake-driving St. Patrick

It's St. Patrick's Day, a day set aside to celebrate a fifth-century missionary and everything else Irish, and my saintly McManus-clan mother always made sure her family did that.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

It's St. Patrick's Day, a day set aside to celebrate a fifth-century missionary and everything else Irish, and my saintly McManus-clan mother always made sure her family did that.

I rejoiced in the celebration, sure. I'm half Irish, and several of the aunts and uncles on my mother's side of the family were everything that people from Ireland are reputed to be - loud and laughing and crying and loving and, sometimes, drinking and fighting. They were fierce protectors of their families, too. They might fight with each other, but they drew together to defend against an outsider's attack.

I'll admit - and I never once mentioned this to my mother when St. Pat's Day drew near - I sometimes felt bad for my dad on March 17. I mean, he was a great guy, every bit as laughing and loving - although not much for drinking or fighting as far as I knew - as those McManuses from my mom's side of the family. But he was Bohemian, a tall and strong son of the old Czech region.

No such thing as Bohemian Day existed in my small corner of the world 60 and 70 years ago. None of my grade-school friends had any notion where or what Bohemia was. They thought it sounded funny, I recall, not at all like Ireland. I looked online the other day, and I found: "Bohemia sometimes refers to the entire Czech territory, including Moravia and Czech Silesia, especially in a historical context, such as the Lands of the Bohemian Crown ruled by Bohemian kings.''

On the one hand, then, my dad's people might well have descended from Bohemian kings. On the other hand, my mom's Irish ancestors never had much use for kings or royalty of any kind, except maybe St. Patrick. He's the superstar, you know, who drove the snakes from Irish soil into the sea. My mom told me that story more time than I can count.


It's a great story, too, never mind that it seems never to have happened. I grew up believing in St. Patrick and the snakes. That's one of the reasons we celebrated a day in his name, I figured. But it turns out, St. Patrick and the snakes was, as too many people like to say these days, fake news. Don't you hate it when facts get in the way of a good story?

To check the story one more time, I found a "National Geographic'' piece on the snake-driving legend. "National Geographic'' says stuff like this: "It's admittedly an unlikely tale. Ireland is one of only a handful of places worldwide - including New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica - that Indiana Jones and other snake-adverse humans can visit without fear.'' (You remember Indiana Jones: "Why did it have to be snakes?'')

An Irish naturalist told the publication that there is no evidence of snakes ever existing in Ireland. This guy said the most recent Ice Age kept the island too cold for reptiles until 10,000 years ago. After that, the "surrounding seas may have kept snakes from colonizing the Emerald Island.''

Were my mother alive today to read that information, I'm pretty sure she'd immediately latch onto the "may have.'' Sure, she'd say, the expert says there's no evidence, but he also says "may have." That means he doesn't know if there were snakes or not, and he certainly wasn't around when St. Patrick drove them into the sea, she'd say. My Irish mom wasn't one to give up on a good story in the face of solid evidence.

Another place in the "National Geographic'' piece says something about a land bridge to Europe once existing. That apparently wasn't at a time when snakes might have crossed over, but the article suggests brown bears, wild boars and lynx made it across to the island before the bridge disappeared.

So the Lynx were in Ireland before they started playing basketball in Minnesota? When? About the time the Lakers were splitting for Los Angeles? There's no mention of Timberwolves, but if they or the Lynx wore green this day, my mom would celebrate them as heartily as she always did St. Patrick.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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