‘Tis almost March 17, and since I’m a quarter Irish (I know that’s true, because ancestry.com analyzed my spit and said it was absolutely so), I’ve decided to celebrate a little-known episode in my ancestral homeland’s history. With apologies to the Irish, and to pagans (who have the right to worship whatever they want, yo), and to ducks everywhere, I offer:
“How Ireland Got Its Green On”:
A Folk Tale
This story, children, takes place long ago, in the time steeped in magic and mystery before St. Patrick brought the Christian religion to the pagan people of Eire. In those days, the native Gaels worshiped many gods derived from the natural world around them. But though they were a people of great faith even then, the whole polytheistic animist thing wasn’t really working out so well. For in antiquity, Ireland was not the verdant, fertile isle it is today. Instead, it was a vast, stinking swamp where the people had to subsist on cakes made from mud and pond scum, and everyone, from the tenderest babe to the most wizened elder, went to bed with wet feet every night.
As you can imagine, life was very hard (wet feet being among the most disagreeable states known to man), and it is from these dark times that the Irish developed that persistent streak of melancholy that shadows an otherwise cheerful people still today. Thus, when St. Patrick arrived on the island promising eternal salvation and dry feet, the Celtic tribes were inclined to listen.
Yet there were some who clung to the old ways. One of these was my own ancestor, Ádhamhnán, “the timorous one.” He was not brave in battle, nor clever with his hands, or even particularly bright. But Ádhamhnan (let’s just call him Ham) had one quality that made him stand out from the other soggy villagers: He had a real thing for ducks.
So great was his passion for these noble birds that he claimed tunnag lach, the Great Duck God, as his personal lord and savior. The fact that the Gaelic people didn’t actually have a Great Duck God in their pantheon was of no concern to Ham. Like I said, he loved him some ducks. The rest of his clan, who knew darned well there was no such thing as a duck god, mostly gave him a wide berth.
One morning, as Ham was slogging through the swamp, he came upon a wondrous thing: a duck’s egg like none he had seen before. It was not the pale, dull green of most duck eggs, but rather a vivid, glossy hue that fairly glowed among the dank brown and gray clumps of the putrid-smelling bog.
Let us not dwell too much on where this object came from and how it came to be in the middle of an Irish swamp; God’s ways are mysterious.
“How blessed I am!” Ham declared. “Clearly this is a gift from Tunnag Lach! Now at last my clansmen must recognize the mighty power of the duck. And perhaps they will make me their chieftain!”
Ham carefully wrapped the magic egg in some rushes and brought it back home. For many days he kept the holy object next to the hearth in his tiny hovel, offering it gifts of finest mud cake and quacking to it reverently. He invited his neighbors and kinsmen to come worship it, saying, “Truly, this is the egg of the Duck God, and I am his chosen one.” And though the people had always known Ham to be full of duck excrement in the past, it was true that this egg he’d found was the damndest thing they’d ever seen.
And so the villagers began to wonder if Tunnag Lach were not indeed the one true deity, and felt a little sheepish for doubting Ham in the past. (Though by “sheepish” I actually mean less sheepish, in that they turned away from Caora, the All-Powerful Sheep God they’d pinned their eternal salvation on in the past.)
Ham, now high priest of the Duck Cult, bid the people to gather up all the duck feathers they could find, with which they would construct a towering shrine to their new lord. (Ham wasn’t any smarter about architecture than he was about duck eggs.) They created a pile of duck feathers that was fully 20 feet high – and soon thereafter only two feet high, after the inevitable rain shower compressed the edifice into sodden mush – and placed the holy egg upon it. “Behold!” Ham declared. “Here is the magic egg that will give birth to Tunnag Lach, the great duck god who will dry out this land and deliver us at last from the curse of moldy feet!”
Why Ham believed a waterfowl would be inclined to solve their wetness problem isn’t clear; the guy, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, had some funny ideas.
Anyway, High Priest Ham was just about to sacrifice a local kid who had the misfortune to be born with webbed toes, when suddenly a tall, imperious looking fellow appeared in their midst. It was St. Patrick himself. He had heard of the village’s blasphemy and came to set them straight.
“There is but one true God!” Patrick proclaimed, “and He didn’t come from an egg!”
“Lies!” Ham retorted. “For look here! It is the magic egg of Tunnag Lach. Let him who does not fear the Quack die by the Quack!”
Then Patrick, who had been around the block a few times, stepped forward and grabbed up the sacred egg. “You’re a moron,” he said by way of righteous chastisement. “This is no egg.” And drawing out his knife, St. Patrick smote the egg. The crowd gasped in horror, then murmured in confusion, as the saint held up not the grisly remains of a Divine Duckling, but two halves of a pulpy fruit. He held one half out to Ham. “Take and eat of it,” he said, “that you may know the truth.”
“That is your penance,” the holy bishop intoned solemnly, “for worshipping a false egg, and for leading others into error.” Then he addressed the crowd, which had fallen back in awe.
“In sorrow shall you eat this fruit … and in joy,” he proclaimed. “For one day you will learn to make tasty desserts with it.”
Then St. Patrick took the seeds from the fruit and cast them on the ground. And everywhere the seeds fell, strong trees sprung up and spread as far as the eye could see.
And that, dear ones, is how Ireland came to be covered with lush, green forests of lime trees.*
*Ireland is not covered with lime tree forests.
In honor of this miracle, I present a traditional St. Patrick’s Day treat. (Nobody in Ireland has ever eaten this).
Key Lime “Duck Eggs” (adapted from this recipe)
Tastefully Simple Key Lime Cheese Ball Mix
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
3 cups Tastefully Simple Twisty Grahams, crushed (I crunched them up in a blender)
4 cups Golden Oreos, crushed
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 pkg. green candy melts
1 pkg. white chocolate chips
Sprinkles and sanding sugar (optional)
Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and Packet 1 of the Key Lime Cheese Ball Mix. Gradually add in the Twisty Graham and Oreo crumbs and flour until well mixed.
Roll the dough into 1-inch, slightly elongated “eggs.”
Place in freezer for 30-45 minutes
In separate bowls, melt candy melts and white chocolate chips.
Dip eggs into the green candy melts or white chocolate and place on a baking rack to allow excess chocolate to drip off.
While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with sanding sugar, sprinkles (try shamrocks in honor of the saint!)
Allow eggs to dry, then drizzle with alternating color of chocolate.