Maggie Nystrom: Meet the Tinker of Tamlacht and other interesting Irish – March 11, 2010

Thursday, March 11, 2010


ext Wednesday, March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. Many of us Americans with a drop of Irish blood enjoy celebrating our heritage that day. Yet how many of us know anything about Patrick or about Ireland? For example, did you know that St. Patrick was from the British Isles and was a missionary to Ireland? Did you know that as a youth he was a slave in Ireland?

Tomie dePaola has written and illustrated a handsome children’s book, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland. The book showcases dePaola’s style and glowing colors, while incorporating elements from Celtic art.

Besides a brief telling of the facts, as we know them, of Patrick’s life, dePaola has included five popular legends that have grown up around his name.

Those seeking the reality behind the legends of Patrick of Armagh would do well to start with Philip Freeman’s St. Patrick of Ireland. Freeman uses an interdisciplinary strategy of analyzing both the texts of Patrick’s time and the artifacts and monuments of his era to allow a depiction of the world of the famous saint who converted Ireland.

We learn, for instance, how slaves typically were treated in the years of the decline of the Roman Empire, and hence how Patrick was likely to have been treated during his years of captivity in Ireland.

We learn how Patrick might have interacted with Ireland’s kings through examining the social structure of the late Celtic world. At the end of the book we can read two authentic documents that come from Patrick himself – his “Letter to Coroticus” and “the Confession,” a defense of his ministry. Altogether the book lets us know a complex and faith-driven man rather than a semi-heroic legend.

In How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill shows how Irish monks saved classical learning during the fifth-century collapse of the Roman Empire. Living far from the barbarian’s despoiling of the continent, monks and scribes preserved the west’s written treasury.

With the return of stability in Europe, these Irish scholars were instrumental in spreading learning back onto the continent. Thus they not only conserved civilization but put their own stamp on the medieval mind.

This is a well-written and informative book full of intense personalities from Patrick himself to Columcille (usually Romanized as Columba).

I was going to include a few Irish authors in this column, but there are so many good ones that I could not pick and chose amongst them. Storytelling has been a tradition amongst the Irish from the earliest times, when bards were treated as royalty.

The Arcata Library is lucky to have Hibernian Nights, a collection of stories by a true Irish storyteller, Seumas MacManus. These are lively stories that you almost have to read aloud.

My favorite story was the one about the Tinker of Tamlacht, who was the “tenderest-hearted man in all Ireland” and “could never turn a deaf ear to the cry of distress” but would not have God as his child’s godfather.

Normal hours Saturday

You may have heard about the planned power outage PG&E has scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 13 on into Sunday.

The Arcata Library  is no longer affected, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All of the other branches of the Humboldt County Library will be open their regular hours that day as well.

In the words of the old Irish blessing, “May you be half an hour in Heaven before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

Maggie Nystrom is the Branch Librarian for the Arcata Library, 500 Seventh St. (707) 822-5954.

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