David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Everything You Know About St. Patrick Is Wrong

March 17, 2019

As a result of years of research, today, fittingly on St. Patrick's Day, I am able to confirm my long-held theory that St. Patrick was never meant to be the patron saint of Ireland, but instead is meant to be the patron saint of academia.  The basis of my hypothesis comes from a typo, probably overlooked by an 8th century monk who had imbibed a little too much Trappist beer as he captured the life of Patrick with fancier-than-needed ligatures.  In the end, our slightly tipsy monk (already caught up in the festive spirit of St. Patrick's Day) wrote "Ireland," instead of the intended "Ivy Land," and an historical inaccuracy, but nevertheless legend, was born.

You may wonder why I ever would have doubted the Irish account and assumed a Higher Ed account.  To be honest, it was simply the drinking.  Well, and the fact that the drinking almost always fell perfectly in the academic creation of the Spring Break.  Nobody takes their drink more seriously than those of us in IvyLand. Sorry Ireland.  As I researched, I found that it was a dribble of that Trappist beer on the manuscript page that sealed the deal for beer to be the official sponsor of St. Patrick's Day. If not for our balding friend's mistakes (both in writing and in cleanliness), I am certain that the Chicago River would be dyed a translucent light gold every March 17 and Bushmill's advertisements would blanket our March Madness television watching.

However, I am sure all you Gaellic cynics need more evidence for my claim here.  As a good academic cynic, I too needed more evidence. It took some digging, but so much of Patrick's life (and legend) fits the world of higher education much more than it fits the life of the higher north Atlantic Ocean.  Consider the key events:

In St. Patrick's own Confessio, he tells of being captured from Cumbria, England, and enslaved at age 16 for 6 years by Irish Pirates.  A seemingly insignificant event, right?  (Well, not to the 16-year old Patrick, I grant you.)  I have now determined that Patrick was the first dual enrolled student.  Much like my beloved baseball team, The Pittsburgh Pirates, gained an unfair nickname for doing a completely legal act (they signed a player on the Cincinnati Redlegs' baseball team), an out-of-district college, Cork College, quickly became dubbed the Cork College Pirates by Cumbrian high school teachers pissed off at losing a chance to teach advanced placement classes.  (As with the Pirates, this nickname may have actually benefitted Cork, because before this date, they were known as the Cork Screws, with a mascot long past political correctness).

Patrick did not willingly embrace his dual enrollment status, often skipping his Abacus 101 class to play with the animals around his camp.  Hence, he becomes the first student to fall through the cracks of government-determined graduation rate by taking 6 years to complete his 4-year degree.  As a result, all of academia is now granted a 150% time frame for calculating our grad rates. It is this little known effect from  his early life that has academics hoisting their sherry glasses in his honor every March.

According to the Confessio, Patrick spent 28 days post-graduation "wandering in the wilderness."  What is it with all of these wandering for days in the wilderness with some of our greatest legends and religious events? Were these guys just recording their dreams, much like mine where I am wandering aimlessly in London without money or passport? Or had they misunderstood the idea of a gap year?  Or was this already the beginning of "my diploma is useless; no one will hire me without experience?"

Although St. Patrick never says for sure why he wandered for so long, the latter notion seems the most likely, as he claims he heard a voice that told him to go back to Ivy Land, where he got a job as an adjunct instructor at the Dublin Institute of Rural Technology (DIRT). The local faculty and administration either ignored him or abused him, so he decided to go start his own faith-based institution in Sligo, the Sligo College of Secular Modernism (SCUM). Despite the unfortunate acronym, the school really was modern, including the costs of textbooks in with the tuition, thus creating a continual "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" with the Monks who transcribed copies of texts.  (And we can see the earliest influence on our bald friend whose frailties at drinking and editing lead to the eventual re-casting of Patrick as an Irish patron saint.)

I think this reconstructed history says it all.  However, I am sure there are parts of the St. Patrick legend that the gentle reader demands align with academia.  After much contemplation, and a little bit of Pogues' music, I can reasonably settle those concerns:

  • How did Patrick choose the shamrock as the symbol of academia if it wasn't so obviously for the Holy Trinity?  What people don't know is that the SCUM core values were a triad: faith, philosophy, and football.  And these became the foundations for almost all religious-based universities and colleges.

A side note: he took a lot of grief for his "three f's" with the phonetic cheat of philosophy.  However, he was always ready with his research, citing precedence with the yet-to-be-articulated 3 R's of education: reading, writing and 'rithmetic.

  • What about St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland?  Well, again, it's the typo that makes all of the difference.  Besides, we know from scientific evidence that there have never been snakes in Ireland.  One only has to turn his or her back in a meeting to know that there are snakes a plenty in higher education. The hope that a person could drive all of these snakes out of our industry is a part of the myth we desperately cling to.
  • Explain the part about St. Patrick's walking stick growing into a living tree.  That's easy because the legend has always been that the stick was planted so that he could evangelize a local group of people who were so resistant to the message that he stayed there long enough for the stick to become a tree.  C'mon, no-one needs me to be more explicit for the academic setting, do you?  Long, rambling lectures.  Why do you think almost every historical campus has some huge ancient tree in some public place that is venerated by all?  It's their own local symbol to the long-windedness of St. Patrick.

I am proud to wrap up my research on this important topic. I fully expect to be attacked publicly for my stance. Not that I think it will help, but I just want to point out that I have nothing against the Irish, at least the natives of the country. I can't say the same when it comes to a certain football team.