Saint Patrick's Day and the Spring Equinox

The famous patron saint of Ireland, Patrick was a missionary in the fifth century. Saint Patrick's Day falls on the 17th of March, which is thought to be the date of his death. He features in many stories and legends here in Ireland.

The well known legend "The Children of Lir" tells of four royal children. They were transformed into swans by their jealous stepmother, but they retained the ability to speak and sing so beautifully that anyone who heard them would stop and listen in wonder. Their transformation lasted for nine centuries and was only broken when a bell rang out to tell of Saint Patrick bringing Christianity to Ireland. He baptised them and they then died peacefully in their human form. 

In a similar vein, Saint Patrick has been linked to the legend of Oisin, Niamh and Embarr, the Fairy Horse. Embarr was the magnificent, magical horse of Manannan Mac Lir, the Celtic god of the sea. Embarr could travel between worlds and carried Niamh across the sea from Tir Nan Og, the Land of Youth, where she met Oisin, son of Fionn mac Cumhaill. 

Oisin and Niamh fell in love and married. They returned to Tir Nan Og where they had a family together and for a long time they were happy.

As the years passed, however, Oisin began to think of his father and his friends and felt that he had to see them once more. Niamh was reluctant, but agreed to loan her horse to Oisin on condition that he did not put his foot upon the soil of Ireland.

So it happened, and Oisin rode ashore at the claddagh at Galway and went in search of the Fianna. His excitement was great as he approached the camp at Dun Aileen, but no-one was there, and the ground was covered in oak, ash and thorn. He realised that, while he had been at his ease in Tir Nan Og, many years had passed by in Ireland. His only choice was to return to Niamh.

He rode slowly now, his heart so heavy that it seemed an extra burden on the horse. Distracted though he was, he saw two men trying to lift a heavy stone. Mindful of Niamh’s warning, he did not dismount, but reached down from the saddle to help. As he took the strain, the girth broke, and Oisin fell to the ground. The two labourers were horrified to see a warrior in the pride of his strength turned instantly to dust. The fairy horse reared and galloped into the breaking waves. In some versions of this legend it has been said that just before he died, Oisin spoke with a Christian priest, and that this priest was in fact Saint Patrick.

The legend of Embarr is the inspiration for our bronze sculpture, limited edition prints and story cards.

Another important date in March is that of the Spring or Vernal Equinox. Falling on Sunday 20th March this year, it marks the time when the sun illuminates both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres equally. The word is derived from the Latin for "equal night" as there will be approximately the same hours of daylight and darkness on these dates. It happens twice a year, in the Spring and the Autumn.

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