|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
She's into equine sports, works in a riding stable in the Midlands, grew up in the middle of a family of brothers, uses a big motorcycle to get to work and, though christened Patricia, is universally known as Paddy.
That's rare in Ireland. I never met a female Paddy before, though I've heard of a few. Given the days we are living through, with the name of our national saint featuring in headlines all over the world, meeting Paddy focused my zany mind on something I mentioned here en passant a few years ago but would like to return to again if I may.
It is about the deeply revealing and nuanced way, certainly here in Ireland, in which the name Patrick is borne through life by those many thousands who were baptized with it. I don't know what the situation is on that front in Irish America, but I'm fascinated by the deeply coded and indicative elements of it on home ground.
The truth is that the many variants of the name Patrick in common usage through the four home provinces are priceless in giving the rest of us a clue about the social width and depth of the stranger Patrick we are meeting either for business or pleasure.
The truth equally is that the majority of men bearing the name are called Patrick at their christenings, at court and official hearings and at their funerals, but live all their lives otherwise by any of the many variants of the name. And these really tell us what kind of man they are. Somehow I'm certain that St. Patrick himself was never called Paddy even by his closest apostles and disciples. Look at any of the illustrations of him and it is clear that he was an ascetic and somehow remote individual.
His writings make that clear too, and I've often wondered what exactly he thought about us Celts deep down in his Welsh heart.
Did he actually like and respect those crazy pagans who had enslaved him and forced him into slavery on bleak mountains? Did he ever really forgive us for that even after we began to become the Island of Saints and Scholars?
I only know for sure that the Welsh have even longer and darker memories than the Irish and that, for sure, nobody ever called him Paddy to his bearded face. The overwhelming majority of our modern Patricks are still called Paddy, though, as they go through life, and I'm deeply grateful for that.
Most Paddys are decent and honorable men, fine friends and neighbors, good husbands, fathers and providers.
A Paddy, often what ye call a blue collar worker, is invariably the salt of the earth here at home. You know that if you were born in Ireland, and I hope it is the reality in Irish America also. In my limited experience I think that is the case indeed. If you need a friend here at home it has always been the case that a Paddy is first on the scene.
It is incredible also how many practical skills and gifts an Irish Paddy has. He can be a brilliant builder, mechanic, electrician, plumber, farmer and handyman and often is.
He can also, at the other end of the scale, be a heartwarming president like the late and loveable Paddy Hillery. That, now, is an interesting example because Dr. Hillery moved easily through a professional and national and international world where the full name Patrick is most often used. It was his inherent warmth and earthiness which enabled him to be a genuine Paddy at the highest of social and political and diplomatic levels.
I've found that many namesakes of the saint at the top of their professions, for some reason, are most usually called Patrick all the time and behave differently to Paddies. The judge who dispatches you to jail will be a Patrick. So, most likely, the barrister who failed in the end to save your skin.
And the hospital consultant who gives you the bad news in somber tones will be a Patrick too. The sympathetic barman who serves you the healing glass of brandy will be a Paddy. And so will the taximan who makes sure you get home safe afterwards. I'm fonder of the Paddys than the Patricks in general. So, probably, are you. The variants are all indicative.
I've lived in communities where one surname was an umbrella over the majority of the families, and the practical response of all was that men were defined as Big Paddy or Small Paddy or Paddy Sean. In the latter case the Tom was the father.
I've even known a Paddy Sean Mary where the neighbors had to go back to a grandmother to accurately distinguish one Paddy Sean from another. That was not unusual at all if you were born, like me, in a county thickly populated by the Maguire clan.
However, there were dozens of other variants. You have known many PJ's, I'm certain, as well as Padraigs and Paurics and even Pauricins and Padraigins (indicating a diminutive Paddy), and there are many Patricks today in Ireland who are known simply as P or Pee. The latter clan are always special and are likely to be gifted musicians, storytellers or entertainers.
There are also many Pats and these too, in my experience of rural life, tend to be very intelligent men of high principles and great compassion.
Very often too Pats are tee-totalers and, if not, should be! They often do not hold their drink very well. St. Patrick would frown down at them quite often in the small hours of the morning. There has always been a derogatory usage of the name Paddy, especially in Mother England. Here, for many years, the establishment promoted the image of drunken Paddies fighting on street corners after a week spent on building sites or at the bottoms of damp clay trenches.
That was unfair racism. As a father I reacted to that by ensuring no thick English foreman would ever have the opportunity to accurately call any of my sons Paddy. Accordingly, they bear the names Cuan, Cormac Og and Dara, and even today I do not regret that decision. Accordingly, it is my great pleasure to send seasonal greetings to all of you out there with green blood in your veins in any quantity, or none apart from the spiritual gene.
There are two regular readers and posters to this space, JamieLM and John Shiels, to whom I send very special regards. God bless.