Daily Archives: March 16, 2018
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Happy St Patrick’s Day!
This Irish feast has taken on a life of its own in countries around the world. On March 17, we are inundated with cartoons, clothing, even cards, embellished with images of the day: shamrocks, harps, elaborate crosses. Familiar as they may be now, what do they really have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?
Symbols provide a glimpse into the psyche of an artist – or an entire culture. Sometimes, patterns and figures evolve to express an idea. Other times, the meaning follows the motif. (For example, when previously pagan symbols take on Christian significance.) Just like language, a culture’s symbolism serves both as a time capsule and an evolving conveyance of modern ideals. Today, we’ll take a look at some common symbols associated with Ireland, and discover the meanings they carry.
Shamrocks and Four-Leaf Clovers
When you think “St. Patrick’s Day,” do you visualize a lucky four-leaf clover, or is it a shamrock? With its three leaves, the seamróg, or shamrock, is the true symbol of Ireland’s patron saint. Legend has it that Patrick used the plant to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to pre-Christian Ireland. So, while you might want to wear a rare four-leaf clover to represent the “luck of the Irish,” only the tri-lobed seamróg represents St Patrick himself.
Of course, pre-Christian Irish art indicates that the island’s inhabitants already had a concept of “three-in-oneness.” But it’s still a nice legend, and a great example of how we can find new significance in existing symbolism.
Spirals and Knotwork
One ancient motif resembling the Trinity is the triskelion. Three arms spiral out from the center, with rotational symmetry. Spirals feature heavily in ancient Irish art, but there’s no way of knowing what the earliest artists wished to convey. Perhaps the spiral represented the course of heavenly bodies through the night sky.
The triquetra, also known as a Trinity knot, is another indigenous emblem that found a Christian meaning. Its three distinct wings form an unbroken, never-ending whole. In one variation, a circle winds through the wings, further unifying the design. The triquetra is the simplest element of Celtic knotwork. Elaborate examples can be found in the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells, and on decorative crosses in churchyards up and down Ireland.
The Celtic Cross
A beautiful design that looks as striking on a tattooed arm as on a headstone in a cemetery, the Celtic cross is composed of a traditional Christian cross with a circle around the intersecting lines. The stem and arms of the cross are often decorated with elaborate knotwork.
Legend attributes this cross to St. Patrick himself. According to the story, Patrick stamped the cross over a circle representing the pagan sun god, emphasizing the spiritual importance of the cross by associating it with the life-giving powers of the sun.
A heart for love, a crown for loyalty, and two hands for friendship: these are the elements present in every Claddagh ring. They originated in the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, possibly earlier than 1700, and are now popular as wedding rings the world over. The hand on which the ring is worn, and whether it’s worn facing inward or out, can communicate the romantic status of the wearer to one in the know.
The Irish Tricolor
Ireland’s flag has three vertical bars, of green, white, and orange. The green represents the sovereign Republic of Ireland, traditionally a Catholic nation. The orange represents Northern Ireland, which is thought of as a Protestant land, and has been part of the United Kingdom since 1921. And the white field in between? Referring to the strife between his divided countrymen, Irish nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher explained, “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”
It’s a concept that’s still relevant, as governments discuss what the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will look like in a post-Brexit UK.
As a nation of poets, storytellers, musicians, and bards, Ireland has long been represented by a harp. Before the tricolor flag, a banner commonly used was a golden harp (sometimes with a winged woman, the Maid of Erin, carved into it) in the center of a green field.
The Irish government wanted to trademark the harp symbol – but Guinness, hallowed creator of Ireland’s most famous stout, had gotten to it first, back in 1876. That means you’ll always see Guinness’s harp facing one way, and the government’s harp facing the other.
Speaking of Guinness, why does alcohol feature so heavily in modern St Patrick’s Day celebrations? It has to do with the calendar. No matter when Easter falls, the Lenten fast is already underway by the time March 17 rolls around. Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed – by law – on the day. The festivities were quiet indeed.
But somewhere along the line, Irish-American Catholics wanted to celebrate their honorary patron saint while still remaining pious, and so the restrictions on food and alcohol came to be lifted for the day. Try to fit 40 days’ worth of revelry into 24 hours, and excess is the natural result! This Americanized aspect of the holiday made its way back to Ireland in the 1990s, largely as an effort to promote tourism.
If you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in this way, you’ll need a ready toast. Raise your glass and say “Sláinte!” (pronounced something like “SLAWN-chə” to drink the health of your party.
Thanks for joining me on this cultural expedition! I hope you’ll enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all the more, having these few fragments of knowledge. Slán go fóill! (Bye for now!)
- And, of course, Wikipedia!
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Kids love superheroes! Here at WCPL, superheroes even have their own section in the Children’s Department. While DC and Marvel are great, I thought I would share some books about real-life superheroes in honor of Women’s History Month.
Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood (J 305.4 HOO)
Fresh, accessible, and inspiring, Shaking Things Up introduces fourteen revolutionary young women—each paired with a noteworthy female artist—to the next generation of activists, trailblazers, and rabble-rousers. In this book, you will find Mary Anning, who was just thirteen when she unearthed a prehistoric fossil. You’ll meet Ruby Bridges, the brave six year old who helped end segregation in the South. And Maya Lin, who at twenty-one won a competition to create a war memorial, and then had to appear before Congress to defend her right to create. And those are just a few of the young women included in this book. Readers will also hear about Molly Williams, Annette Kellerman, Nellie Bly, Pura Belprè, Frida Kahlo, Jacqueline and Eileen Nearne, Frances Moore Lappé, Mae Jemison, Angela Zhang, and Malala Yousafzai—all whose stories will enthrall and inspire.
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison ( J 920.72089 HAR)
Featuring forty trailblazing black women in American history, Little Leaders educates and inspires as it relates true stories of breaking boundaries and achieving beyond expectations. Illuminating text paired with irresistible illustrations bring to life both iconic and lesser-known female figures of Black history such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth, pilot Bessie Coleman, chemist Alice Ball, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash. In these biographies, readers will find heroes, role models, and everyday women who did extraordinary things—bold women whose actions and beliefs contributed to making the world better for generations of girls and women to come. The leaders in this book may be little, but they all did something big and amazing, inspiring generations to come.
Rad American Woman A-Z by Kate Schatz (J 920.72 SCH)
Like all A-Z books, this one illustrates the alphabet—but instead of “A is for Apple”, A is for Angela—as in Angela Davis, the political activist. B is for Billie Jean King, who shattered the glass ceiling of sports; C is for Carol Burnett, who defied assumptions about women in comedy; D is for Dolores Huerta, who organized farmworkers; and E is for Ella Baker, who mentored Dr. Martin Luther King and helped shape the Civil Rights Movement. American history was made by countless rad—and often radical—women. By offering a fresh and diverse array of female role models, this book reminds readers that there are many places to find inspiration, and that being smart and strong and brave is rad!
Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz (J 920.72 SCH)
From the creators of Rad American Women A-Z, Rad Women Worldwide tells fresh, engaging, and amazing tales of perseverance and radical success by pairing well-researched and riveting biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits. This book features an assortment of international figures from 430 BCE to 2016, spanning thirty-one countries around the world, from Hatshepsut (the great female king who ruled Egypt peacefully for two decades) and Malala Yousafzai (the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize) to Poly Styrene (legendary teenage punk and lead singer of X-Ray Spex) and Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft (polar explorers and the first women to cross Antarctica). Together, these stories show the immense range of what women have done and can do. May we all have the courage to be rad!
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky (J 509.22 IGN)
Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more by highlighting the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection also contains infographics about relevant topics such as lab equipment, rates of women currently working in STEM fields, and an illustrated scientific glossary. The trailblazing women profiled include well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. It’s a scientific fact: Women rock!
Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky (J 796.092 IGN)
From the author of Women in Science, Women in Sports highlights the achievements and stories of fifty notable women athletes from the 1800s to today, including trailblazers, Olympians, and record-breakers in more than forty sports and celebrates the success of the tough, bold, and fearless women who paved the way for today’s athletes. The athletes featured include well-known figures like tennis player Billie Jean King and gymnast Simone Biles, as well as lesser-known champions like Toni Stone, the first woman to play baseball in a professional men’s league, and skateboarding pioneer Patti McGee. This book also contains infographics on topics that sporty women want to know about such as muscle anatomy, a timeline of women’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women for the win!
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh (J 609.2 THI)
In kitchens and living rooms, in garages and labs and basements, even in converted chicken coops, women and girls have invented ingenious innovations that have made our lives simpler and better. Their creations are some of the most enduring (the windshield wiper) and best loved (the chocolate chip cookie). What inspired these women, and just how did they turn their ideas into realities?