By Lynda Hollenbeck
On St. Patrick's Day, everyone is either Irish or an Irish wannabe. It's a time for parades, Irish dancing, parties and having fun.
As a Parnell (my maiden name), I can boast of Irish heritage and say unequivocally that I love all the traditions normally associated with St. Paddy's Day. (With one exception: I don't drink beer, green or otherwise, but I can sip on my Dr Pepper if someone else chooses to do so.)
My great-grandparents came to this country from the old country. And according to our family history, some of our ancestors served in Irish Parliament but got booted out. The reason for the ejection never has filtered down to those of us left to share the tale, so I suppose it will remain a mystery unless someone gets really serious about genealogy.
I used to dream of being in New York on St. Paddy's Day to attend the big parade or the one in Dublin. However, for the past few years, I have been to a great parade on my favorite holiday and it was only a little piece up the road — in nearby Hot Springs.
Now in its 10th year, this thing is about as quirky as a parade can get. In fact, it's earned the distinction from Smithsonian magazine as being "The Quirkiest St. Patrick's Day Parade on Earth."
The official parade route covers the 98-foot length of Bridge Street, declared by Ripley's Believe It or Not as the world's shortest street in everyday use.
However, calling the event the "shortest parade" is somewhat of a misnomer because the description applies only to the one official street whereas the procession starts from a much greater distance out. If you've hankering for some Irish fun, it's worth the short drive.
This year's celebrity grand marshals for the "First Ever Tenth Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade" (the official title) are to be actress Bo Derek and John Corbett of "Northern Exposure" fame.
Visitors are encouraged to come shake their shillelaghs at this year's zany parade that will include leprechauns, quirky floats, marching bands, usually the Marching Pickles (a Saline County delegation) and Irish Elvis impersonators (representing the International Order of Elvi).
The parade itself begins at 6:30 p.m., but preceding it are some other fun events like:
•4:30 p.m., Blarney Stone Kissing Contest at the Arkansas Blarney Stone.
•5:30 p.m., kickoff with special guests on Bridge Street.
•6:25 p.m., measuring of the parade route on Bridge Street.
Also a post-parade concert is held on the Bridge Street stage after the procession is over. Before the concert starts, you'll hear somebody singing "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." That's an every-year occurrence.
When you consider what St. Paddy's Day celebrations are like, it seems ironic that the holiday is religious in origin. It's a celebration of the life of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the island in the fifth century. He used the shamrock to teach Irishmen about the Holy Trinity.
Also, the three leaves of a shamrock mean hope, faith and love with a fourth for luck. One estimate says there are 10,000 three-leaf clovers for every lucky four-leaf clover.
Interestingly, St. Patrick wasn't even Irish, being born and raised in England.
Associated with the holiday are tales of leprechauns, which in mythology and folklore are Irish fairies. They are said to be 2 feet tall and work as shoemakers. (I'd settle for a shoe repairman, but the cobbler trade apparently is a lost art.) According to legend, a leprechaun has a pot of gold and if you catch him and don't let him out of your sight, he'll lead you to it at the end of a rainbow.
I've been looking for a real leprechaun most of my life and so far haven't spotted a single one.
Since Irish people are known for their humor, it seems fitting to include some examples here:
When the Irish say that St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland, what they don't tell you is that he was the only one who saw any snakes.
Another: Finnegan's wife had been killed in an accident and the police were questioning him.
"Did she say anything before she died?" asked the sergeant.
"Aye, she spoke without interruption for about 40 years," replied Finnegan.
The Irish also are known for wise "sayings," as illustrated by the following:
A quarrel is like buttermilk: Once it's out of the churn, the more you shake it, the more sour it grows.
Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat.
A family of Irish birth will argue and fight, but let a shout come from without and see them all unite.
An Irishman has an abiding sense of tragedy that sustains him through temporary periods of joy.
Speaking of very bad music, an Irishman said: "Aw, that's the tune the old cow died of."
And of one who overstays his welcome: "If that man went to a wedding, he'd stay for the christening."
About a person who paid too much for a cow: "He bought every hair in her tail."
Irish folk also are known for their poignant blessings. My favorite is this one from the land across the sea:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.