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As March 17 approaches--green or orange?

For years I’ve struggled with St. Patrick’s Day.  No, not the drinking and eating--no struggle there.  But I learned years ago that you wear green on St. Patrick’s day if you’re Catholic and orange (for William of Orange--see the Battle of the Boyne for more info) if you’re Protestant.

I wear a lot of green (and black, to be honest), most of the time.  But I am hardly Catholic.  And though I’ve threatened to pre-order an orange jumpsuit for Gitmo, I wouldn’t do the Prod thing either.

What’s an Irish Pagan woman to do?

Like Columbus Day which is not at all about Columbus but is all about being Italian-American, St. Patrick’s Day is not about the dreaded saint--at least not in the US.  It is a time to be “Irish”, whatever that means. Everyone wants to be Irish for the day--you can buy a hat or t-shirt that proclaims your faux-Irishness. Owning such a classy item gives you entree into the world of cultural stereotypes--will you be drunken Irish?  Fighting Irish?  Maudlin Irish?  Will you bypass all that and proclaim yourself a Celt, wearing a utilikilt and an attitude?

Or perhaps you’d prefer a button with the ubiquitous “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”. Kissing the famous stone in Blarney Castle gives you “the gift of the gab”--what does kissing a person of Irish-extraction give you?  Will you achieve the legendary “Luck of the Irish”--which, to me, is always akin to the notion of the Jews as “God’s Chosen People?”  Yep, you grab yourself some of that wonderful luck--domination by a neighboring island, destruction of your culture and spirituality by invaders, mass starvation and emigration, a Celtic tiger economy that crashes into devastating poverty…again? Let me know how that sort of "luck" works for you.

So, not green (though I love it) and not orange.  What to do?

The answer, as always for me, lay in the land, the “auld sod” to continue our adventure in cultural stereotyping.  When I was first in Ireland--I came across the sea from Holyhead, in Wales--there was a kind of call to me from the dirt, the actual soil of the place.  Wherever I went, I found myself picking up small stones, kneeling in dirt, touching my hands to the ground.  The Hill of Tara caught my breath with its fierce wind and deep history.  And little Kildare Town…and the monstrous Glendalough…and the great Boyne Valley.

Each had an underlying vestment of longing and pride and fear and belonging.

So I’ve decided to tie myself to the land of Ireland and not the crashing cymbals of two religious groups I can’t really tell apart. I cleave to the earth of that island that my ancestors called home, so long ago.  I fancy that my love of gardening came from both sides of my family tree--the Irish and the English.  And when I throw in the long years here in these old mountains I call home, I am thrice blessed with silt and clay and stone.

I will wear brown to honor that connection, to honor the soil from which I come and to which one day I will return.  And in between?  I’ll grow some vegetables.


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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


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