Legend has it that when St. Patrick returned to Ireland as a Bishop in 432 AD, he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity of God to the Irish. Little did he know the tiny green leaf would become an iconic symbol for much more than the explanation of the divine, it would become an emblem every March 17 when people can don green and pretend to be Irish. But year-round there are people in the community who are proponents of keeping the true Celtic traditions alive and available to everyone.
Maura De Freitas is publisher of the Celtic Connection, a monthly newspaper connecting the various Celtic communities across western Canada and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
She says her deep appreciation for Irish heritage came from her father, who was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s. She says he had a great love for everything Irish – literature, art, and music.
With these sentiments firmly ingrained in her heart, Maura and her mother, Catholine Butler, founded the newspaper in 1991. Through the Celtic Connection, Maura is ensuring that Irish culture thrives and its traditions and heritage are recognized and preserved.
The Source: Tell us about your background, your publication, and your own Celtic connection.
Maura De Freitas: I learned that during the Dark Ages, Ireland was a light for Europe where art and culture flourished in the abbeys and monasteries. Ireland stood as a beacon of learning during the sixth to the ninth centuries, a time of European anarchy after the fall of the Roman Empire. During that period, Ireland’s scholars kept learning alive and Irish monks founded monasteries all over the Continent.
I was inspired by these stories – and the imagery it evoked – about the artistic masterpieces created by Irish artisans, and the literary richness of Ireland. We were encouraged to read and given the opportunity to learn about the mythology, folklore, and the musical traditions of our forefathers.
Both Catholine and myself are very passionate about the Celtic Connection and it was this dedication which helped the paper not only to survive but to grow and evolve. We have built a great deal of trust with a diverse community where there was initially a great deal of suspicion. We have worked to help unify the Irish, Scots, Welsh, and English communities in western Canada.
TS: What other Celtic or Irish traditions are lesser known, but important around March 17?
MDF: While the celebrations associated with this feast have become internationally recognized and have been a wonderful opportunity to highlight the warmth and fun-loving spirit of the Irish, it has also sadly created many misconceptions about Irish people in general.
I was not surprised to read recently that according to a new survey, over half of Americans are unaware that St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland. They were stumped when asked what the festivities were all about.
Having said that, March 17 has become synonymous with all things Irish and that has brought great opportunity to heal divisions and bring communities together in celebration.
TS: As the Celtic community doesn’t seem to be as strong in Vancouver as in eastern Canada, why is this community important to Vancouver’s identity?
MDF: I suppose one reason that comes to mind initially is how young this province and city really is. In eastern Canada there are very deep historical roots going back to the first settlers in this great country. Here in western Canada we are at times truly viewed as one of the last frontiers.
There is so much opportunity here and we live in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, so there is much to evolve [as a] community.
Vancouver is a jewel on the Pacific coast and I think the word is out increasingly among the young Irish arrivals who are now flocking to our shores. Their presence is bound to alter the cultural landscape.
Having said that, if you look at the history of B.C., the Irish have made enormous contributions in the past, including four Irish-born premiers and another of Irish parentage.
TS: What single piece of advice would you give to your community in helping it stay strong and true to its roots?
MDF: One piece of advice I was given as a very young child – never forget your history. Embrace your past, make peace with your past, [and] never forget who you are or from where you are descended….otherwise you are [in] danger of getting lost and repeating the same mistakes of the past. Having said this, we must live and honour the present, as that is how we are in a position to give something to the future.
This is a condensed version of the original interview.