Saint Patrick

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The Article

The colour green has curious psychological effects on people. Graphic and product designers have long known, or at least once knew, that it was the most dangerous segment of the colour wheel to play with—the stretch between the cooler yellows and the greenshade blues. Few people spontaneously choose colours in that range. Most naturally favour blues, or reds.

“Hospital green” may have been discarded by our medical institutions, but while it served, it was a constant reminder of the universality of pain. Various other puce greens have been used institutionally over the years, out of a will that I frankly associate with sadism. But these greens, I hasten to add, are nothing like the rich emerald greens we associate with Ireland, and which can acquit themselves well in small doses.

Green is of course the colour of foliage, and nature vegetated is an extraordinary orchestra in that range—the symphonic background for floral solos in distinct contrasting colours. For green in a contrast is often gorgeous. But green against another green in a field of greens is something only God can pull off. I do not recommend it to artists, except the most skilled botanical illustrators.

As a (very) amateur Sunday painter, in the watercolour line, I have found that greens are the surest way to ruin a landscape composition, and that with the possible exception of viridian, there is no green pigment in a paintbox that isn’t offering to unmake my day.

Only mixed greens seem to work (let some capable painter correct me). And the two traditional green “mixers” among the artist’s tubes—“sap green” and “Hooker’s green,” themselves artificially contrived—must never ever be used alone. Indeed, they operate out of a part of the spectrum so ill-served by durable pigments from nature, we must reasonably conclude that God never wanted us to go there.

Green is associated today with two fanatical ideological movements: leftist environmentalism, and Islamism. We thus see it everywhere, making in-your-face propaganda, so that we can almost hope they’ll run out of the dye, as I understand the Maoists once did with red in China. This was during the (anti-) Cultural Revolution, when they turned with a vengeance instead to that grim static blue for the slave workers’ pyjamas. And the cognate mid-range green for the People’s Army—that Paul Hellyer also made our military wear, when the Liberals “unified” our armed forces in the 1960s—a truly inhuman colour.

I mentioned Ireland somewhere above, and I often think had the colour of Saint Patrick been blue—as it once was, before the glib modern mind changed it to coincide with the shamrock—I’d have shown more sympathy to the Irish.

Between my natural chlorophobia, and horror of Danny-Boy sentimentality, Scotch Presbyterian ancestry, British fustian pomp, and the “Orange” heritage of my native Ontario (now there’s a vile colour for you)—I harboured a snooty prejudice against most Irish things. In particular, March 17 seemed a good day to stay off the streets, and as far from pubs as possible. (The idea of beer dyed kelly green still unnerves me.)

It was only when I crossed the Tiber a few years ago, that the whole idea of Irish began growing on me, and I embraced Saint Patrick as a relative of some kind. Indeed I, who have no known Irish forebears more recent than the settlement of Scotland’s Western Isles, now find myself deeply moved by a history both tragic and redemptive—of a people who stuck by their religion through centuries of persecution, preferring poverty to apostasy.

Likewise, I have finally grasped how the dogged qualities of the Irish served them, and served others, in the settlement of this Canadian wilderness—the laying down of civilization in our remote and inhospitable places.

Too, I find myself reading the deeper history of Ireland, with a new appreciation for God’s mysterious ways. There is a sense in which the light of western Christendom began shining in an Hibernian candelabrum, itself lit from afar, out of Egypt. For it was the learned, poetical, charitable spirit of an intensely catholic and evangelical Ireland, that lighted the most savage corners in Europe’s Dark Age.

We are falling back into paganism and barbarity again. It is not that lump of earth called Ireland, but the grace that came to her through men like Patrick, that is worth celebrating. We only grease the slide when we take “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” instead, as a day to cavort with the arse-braying, idiot green leprechauns.

On this level, my chlorophobia survives. For I think we must invoke not the cartoon, but the living Saint Patrick, to help us repair what he once builded; to explain once more the Trinity to us, as once he did by means of the shamrock.


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