This evening, on the eve of the exciting ritual season during which we honor our great patron saint, I met five decent men whose birth certificates, like millions of others all over the world, bear the good saint's proud name.

I had amiable conversations with all of them on sundry topics, both national and international and, tellingly, not once was the name Patrick mentioned, even when I had to introduce one of them to a friend with me at the time.

There is a strange surreal reality here which I want to flesh out a bit for all of you, wherever you are, and especially if your birth certificate too is franked with

Patrick's name. And those readers who were born and raised in Ireland will know, as I cover the linguistic terrain, that all I say is true.

Here on the home island, it is a fact that a man named in honor of the patron saint can survive and thrive for a full year without once hearing his name rendered in full. That, for most, is evidence that he has had a peaceful and untroubled year.

You see, if the full form of his name is used, it likely means that he is looking at a court summons for some offense or other and is before a judge and jury. Or that he has been admitted to hospital for treatment for some or other ailment. Or that the taxman or the banker is sending him threatening letters re debts.

Or perhaps even, in this new era, that his wife is seeking a divorce with full maintenance of herself and their clan.

Usage of the full baptismal name, in short, usually comes attached to difficult times. Believe it or not.

I illustrate the point by referring again to the five worthy men I enjoyed time with this evening. One of them is universally known as Paddy Mor (Big Paddy) because there is a Paddy Beag (Small Paddy) in the same townland.

Two are addressed always as PJ (short for Patrick Joseph), one is simply called Pee (as are many thousands of others throughout the land) and the last of them, whom I had to introduce to my companion,

is Pappy to all who know him.

The reality is that there is an affectionate kind of social caste system attached to the abbreviations and the nuances of that are recognized by all.

The legions of Pees and P.J.s in the four provinces are generally the earthy salt of the earth. Most would be described as blue collar workers in the modern terminologies,

all are the best of neighbors and friends, the rugged backbones of their communities,

unassuming and honest, more likely to play Gaelic football or hurling than soccer or

rugby -- in short, the kind of men you like to meet.

Many are in possession of the older rural arts and skills like thatching and basket making, about all can turn their hands to

everything, especially the skills connected with farming and rural life generally.

I would reckon the majority of them are more likely to vote for Fianna Fail than for any other political party. Many would also have a softer spot for Sinn Fein than for Labour.

Intriguingly, in my experience, the many who are called Pappy share the same characteristics and decencies but are more likely to reside in towns and villages.

The men who are always called Patrick, on the other hand, are a relatively small and exclusive group at the other end of the caste system. It is remarkably true that many of them possess the same austere personality as the patron saint and generally occupy the power positions in our society.

It is likely that the hospital consultant who delivers the dread diagnosis may be called Patrick, just like the judge with the white collar and tie who sends you to jail, the banker who refuses the loan, the bureaucrat who imposes the social and economic realities of Irish existence far more subtly than the elected politicians.

It takes a very special kind of Patrick to be so highly and warmly regarded by the population as to qualify for one of the affectionate abbreviations. Off the top of my head I can only think of beloved former president Paddy Hillery.

Not many Patricks span that divide. I feel not many of them would wish to either.

In conclusion I wish an enjoyable St. Patrick's Day celebration to all of you --especially to those namesakes simply known as Pee!