Surprising Patrick’s Day message from Germany

March 15, 2021 in Featured News, News

Niall Leahy is an Irish Jesuit living and working in Munich. Each year he celebrates a special St Patrick’s Day Mass followed by an Irish-themed concert. In pre-coronavirus times, up to 30,000 people would line the streets to watch the annual St Patrick’s Day parade in the city. This year they will have a specially commissioned video to watch instead.

Some time ago Niall asked Professor Marc-Aeilko Aris, a German friend and colleague, if he would give a lecture on St Patrick to mark the saint’s feast day. (Professor Aris’s historical area covers the time of St Patrick). Because of Covid-19 restrictions, Niall ended up instead with a fascinating six-minute video that reveals material about the patron Saint of Ireland that many Irish people may not know.

The video features a column, deep within the 12th-century crypt of the Freisinger Cathedral in Munich, with dragons and monsters and various other carvings. Professor Aris explains that whilst it dates from well after St Patrick’s time, it nonetheless reveals the forces that formed the Saint’s imagination and tells stories that shaped his world.

You can read below the story behind the making of this video of St Patrick in Freisinger Cathedral in Munich and hear how ‘all things Irish’ are valued in a city where the Irish punch well above their weight. You can also click here to watch this year’s St Patrick’s Mass, followed by the annual St Patrick’s Concert which you can view here. 

“The Irish have what the Germans need”

About three years ago, I asked Professor Marc-Aeilko Aris, (Professor for Latin Philology at the Ludwig Maxilimian’s Unversity in Munich) if he would give a lecture on St. Patrick. (His area of expertise includes the time of St. Patrick). He was very willing to oblige me. Then I got cold feet! How would I fill the 300 seats in the Aula at the Jesuit Philosophy School here in Munich (Hochschule für Philosophie, SJ) or even get 100 people to come?

Then about three months ago, I thought perhaps a YouTube video would be better, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic. Again Prof. Aris was willing. He said then that he could do this ‘from home’ on his computer, as he does with his lectures at the University. I did some quick research. I asked people ‘in the know’. The advice was clear: the video should be short and it would be best to have it done professionally. Now, this was quite a ‘step up’ from what I had originally thought.

The largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade on mainland Europe is in Munich. When the sun shines, as many as 30,000 people turn out, even though there are only around 1,000 Irish in Munich. (In contrast, there are about 30,000 Croatians!). Some of the main streets in Munich are cordoned off for this parade.

There are four Irish opera-singers living in Munich, Germany: Frances Lucy (soprano, from Dublin), Tara Erraught (mezzosoprano, from Dundalk), Niamh O’Sullivan (mezzosoprano, from Cork) and Dean Power (tenor, from Clarecastle, Co. Clare). The first three mentioned have been trained in Dublin by “Ronnie” – that is, Dr. Veronica Dunne.

I came to Germany fifteen years ago, and after five years I was able to celebrate a Mass in honour of St. Patrick on the evening before the parade. I was able to build on the momentum created over the years by the parade (and other Irish events throughout the year in Munich), and at my doorstep were the Irish opera singers.

The amount of activity created by the small number of Irish people is extraordinary. “The Irish have what the Germans need,” a German friend said to me a few years ago. “The Irish have a gift for celebration.” Almost anything Irish is seen by the Germans as positive. This is of course true for Irish folk music (e.g. “Riverdance”, the Chieftains, the Dubliners), but it goes deeper.

I am still surprised at how grateful the general public is for the Irish monks in the early Middle Ages who brought Christianity to Germany, especially to Bavaria. St. Killian’s Cathedral in Würzburg is probably the best example of this influence. It is extraordinary to think that Christianity came to Bavaria not from Italy, which is far closer to Bavaria, but from a small island off the north-west coast of mainland Europe.

In Bavaria the usual daily greeting is “Gruss Gott” (literally “Greet God”). Could this not be a translation of the Irish “Dia dhuit”? And German Scholars were often the best researchers on Ireland’s past. Kuno Meyer for instance founded four journals devoted to Celtic Studies. He is best known as the man who introduced the Irish to “Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry” (1911). The Austrian Scholar, Ludwig Bieler published in 1961, Irland. Wegbereiter des Mittelalters (1961) (Ireland, harbinger of the Middle Ages). Certainly, Thomas Cahill’s book (How the Irish saved civilisation) is more popular.

Against this background all things Irish fall on good soil in Bavaria. Three years ago, I asked Prof. Aris to give a lecture on St. Patrick. The result is the short YouTube Video entitled ‘St. Patrick’s Day 2021 in Freisinger Cathedral’.

Niall Leahy SJ

March 12th, 2021