TODAY is Saint Patrick’s Day – or as it’s called in French la fête de la Saint-Patrick, or Saint-Patrice.
That means that if your name is Patrick (or Patrice) it is your day too – so bonne fête!.
Apart from heading for your nearest Irish bar to celebrate with a glass of (expensive!) Guinness or some Irish whiskey – of which France is the biggest importer after the USA - read on for some interesting facts we have compiled about Saint Patrick and the links between France and the Emerald Isle.
This comes as Irish low-cost airline Ryanair said it is looking at flights from €14 from Europe to a city which has Saint-Patrick as its patron saint – New York. That compares to tickets at at least €424 by Air France. Unfortunately it is likely to be a few years away and they have not said yet if French airports will take part.
Today about 15,000 Irish people are estimated to live in France and there are dozens of Irish bars, Irish bands, Irish dancing schools and even a French federation for Ireland’s favourite sport, Gaelic football, with clubs around France and both men’s and women’s teams.
Since at least the 16th century France, especially Paris, has attracted many Irish people, some drawn to study Catholic theology at prestigious institutions like the Collège des Irlandais (more about this below). However Franco-Irish links turn out to go back much further than that.
St Patrick (maybe) trained as a priest on an island off Cannes
Patrick, whose original name was the less-snappy Maewyn Succat, was a Romano-Briton born in Cumbria in the 4th century but he had French links too – his grandmother was from Touraine (the area around Tours, in the north-west) in Gaul.
As a young man Patrick was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave but he later escaped and is said to have ended up in the south of France where he trained as a priest on the Isle Saint-Honorat, one of the two Isles de Lérins. That was before he was appointed as a bishop, took the name Patrick, and was sent to evangelise Ireland by the pope.
The claim is not so far-fetched – the 4th adn 5th centuries was the heyday of the Isles de Lérins as a famous centre of Christian learning (and it is still home to monks today) even though the current abbot says it is more certain is that, for example, the first archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, went there.
Nonetheless the story is widely believed by the Irish, who often visit the island and asked to put up a plaque to St Patrick there. It is also stated as a fact by the Irish Department for Foreign Affairs, who say on their website that St Patrick “trained in France before coming back to Ireland to spread the message of Christianity”.
Legend has it that while on the island, he designed a chapel in the shape of a clover leaf on the site of the current Chapel of the Holy Trinity. Local historian Jacques Cessin told Nice-Matin the foundations showed it to have had a straight nave with three round chapels off it...
There is another – more tenuous – link between Patrick, who is said to have sent the snakes out of Ireland, and the founder of the Lérins Abbey, St Honorat, who legend has it once climbed a palm tree and called the waters to cover the island to rid it of snakes!
More facts about Ireland and France:
• France is taking part in ‘GlobalGreening’ – in which monuments around the world are being lit up green for St Patrick’s Day. They include the Irish embassy, la Croisette and its Palais des Festivals in Cannes, Bordeaux's Porte de Bourgogne, the Sacré-Coeur, the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the headquarters of the OECD (the Château de la Muette), Monaco's royal palace, the Negresco hotel in Nice and several landmarks in Lyon - not to mention Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland Paris, where there is a big St Patrick's Festival with a parade and fireworks today. Galleries Lafayette in Paris is also taking part and is has a Semaine Irlandaise promotion in its travel department this week.
• The Irish flag was inspired by the French Tricolore which was brought by Irish patriots from the revolutionary barricades in Paris.
• The region of Brittany shares Celtic links with Ireland and the country is always represented by performers at the annual Festival Interceltique de Lorient, Europe’s biggest Celtic culture event. The president of Ireland has previously visited for the official opening.
• The Centre Culturel Irlandais in the Latin quarter of Paris is housed in a prestigious building that was formerly home to the Collège des Irlandais, a large community of Irish priests and trainee priests and lay scholars of religion, founded in 1578.
Though it was only opened in 2002, the centre’s staff are appointed by the Fondation Irlandaise which has been responsible for the building and its activities since a decree by Napoleon in 1805.
It is taking part in GlobalGreening and is also marking today with activities including giving away free Roddy Doyle novels and with music by 7-piece group Kíla, who they say are one of Ireland’s most innovative and energetic groups. It is also the ideal place to go if you want to learn Gaelic in France... (see Irish Cultural Centre).
• France is the world’s biggest market for Irish seafood and lamb – and second for its whiskey and beef.
• One of the French senators for French expats (and until last year, minister for French expats), Hélène Conway-Mouret, is passionate about Ireland where she spent 25 years including studying at Trinity College, Dublin and working as head of the language department of the Dublin Institute of Technology. She founded a Dublin branch of the French Parti Socialiste.
• If you are really interested in France and Ireland you might look into a course at the National Centre for Franco-Irish studies at Tallaught, near Dublin... It focuses on “cultural, literary, commercial, philosophical and historical links”.
• In the mean time, why not try this recipe for the perfect Franco-Irish combination: Guinness French Onion Soup
Photo: Irish Embassy, Paris.