Saturday, March 17, 2007

Didn't Yeats Write a Poem About This?

Every year around this time, I get a little homesick for Chicago and that beautiful green river.

Dan O'Leary of Chicago Saint Patrick's Day Parade asserts the tradition "...ranks right up there with the parting of the sea by Moses and the Pyramids of Egypt." I'm inclined to agree, since I like the mental image that evokes: legions of enslaved leprechauns guided by the Hand of God Almighty to use their magical power to turn the river into a manifestation of Irish Power.Since this is Chicago, though, it's more than a little suspiscious that those leprechauns aren't represented by a union. The magic becomes much more plausible if you imagine a secret organized crime network of little green men wearing knickers and using heavy-handed mob tactics to maintain their pot of gold and rainbow cartel.

Actually, the whole tradition was a bit of a fluke. It started back in 1961, when a civil engineer working with an orange dye to detect waste leaks in the river noticed that the dye turned his coveralls kelly green. He and his buddy, Stephen Bailey, who was the Business Manager of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union, came to the natural conclusion anyone in their position would have, namely, "If we dye the river bright green for St. Patrick's day, it'll cover up more of the vomit!" And thus, a miracle was born.

The celebration maintains roots in its Catholic heritage. Much like the transubstantiation, two miracles occur when the river is dyed, according to O'Leary. "Two miracles appear that day, the river turns a perfect shade of green, something that many other cities have tried but have not been successful at doing, and the second miracle by starting with the color orange giving the impression that river will be orange only to convert the river to that true Irish green. We believe that is where the leprechaun comes in." So if I have this straight, this event perfectly symbolizes St. Patrick's conversion of the Irish. The orange (Protestant) dye is converted to green (Catholic) with a little bit of Irish magic (polluted river water). And as we all know, that's the same way St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.

The miracle took a little bit of finessing. In 1962, the leprechauns tossed 100 pounds of dye in the river and cossed their fingers. The river stayed EctoCooler green for a week. By 1966, they'd figured out that they really only needed about 25 pounds, only to have environmentalists bitch and moan that the oil-based dye was polluting the pristine Chicago River. After they stopped laughing hysterically in the environmentalists' faces, they figured it wasn't actually going to hurt anyone to change to a vegetable-based dye. To this very day, they use about forty pounds of dye to turn the river green. After about four to five hours, the river turns back to its natural color- green.

Meanwhile, cadres of leprechauns trawl the streets, looking to deflower naive Irish step dancers.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Chris Chan said...

Are you thinking of the closing lines of Yeats's "Fergus and the Druid" or is it some other poem?

Fergus. I SEE MY LIFE GO DRIFTING LIKE A RIVER
From change to change; I have been many things-A GREEN DROP IN THE SURGE, a gleam of light
Upon a sword, a fir-tree on a hill,
An old slave grinding at a heavy quern,
A king sitting upon a chair of gold -
And all these things were wonderful and great;
But now I have grown nothing, knowing all.
Ah! Druid, Druid, how great webs of sorrow
Lay hidden in the small slate-coloured thing!

7:04 PM  
Blogger rock_ninja said...

Actually, yeah, a bit. I was thinking about that poem, what with the spirits and green and swords and strife and whatnot (clearly, Yeats is referencing an army of green men) but also of the faerie stories from Celtic Twilight.

9:32 PM  

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