Patrick McCloskey was born in Killycolman, County Donegal, Ireland. He was my grandfather. He immigrated to the US around 1915. His family in Ireland called him “Paddy the Yank.” He celebrated his birthday on St. Patrick’s Day. My middle name is Patrick, after him. There are many Pat McCloskeys. I’ve got a wife named Patt, an Uncle Pat, and cousins Pat.
My parents were born in the USA, but St. Patrick’s Day was a big deal growing up in our Irish-American household in Elizabeth, NJ. Each spring, the family would fast for the 40 days of Lent. We didn’t stop eating, but we ate less. One pious year, maybe 1961, I went to Lenten mass every morning, meaning nothing but water for breakfast. We’d have a very small lunch. I remember my Dad eating dry saltines. At dinner there was no meat, not even hot dogs, as the days stretched toward Easter. There was no dessert, either.
March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, generally falls in the middle of Lent. In early March the parish priests at St. Gen’s would announce that Archbishop Boland was prepared to bless us with a dispensation from Lenten observances for St. Patrick’s Day. There was a catch. First, there would be an extra collection for a very worthy project, and if the collection was robust we got a one-day free pass. We always won the St. Patrick’s Day pass!
After three weeks of fasting, we had a smashing big dinner of beef brisket and boiled potatoes with baby pearl onions in the peas. There was butter on everything. We had Irish soda bread made from cousin Kitty Gallagher’s recipe. Dessert was Mom’s Dundee pound cake filled with walnuts and cherries. Dad would have a Scotch, Mom sipped a Rye and Ginger. The four kids got a dash of ginger ale to toast the glory of St. Patrick.
Years later, a priest told me my memory of this dispensation proclamation was “absolute rubbish.” Archbishop Boland wouldn’t do such a thing. Next, some theologians decreed that St. Patrick never existed, or, at best, he’s an amalgam of Gaelic-speaking missionaries. The heck with them. In my mind, St. Patrick will always be a beloved symbol of my heritage. I see him as a canny and powerful man who out-wizarded the druids at their own game.
My St. Patrick print series started in 2010 in St. Louis, Mo. I went to study woodblock printing with the great artist Tom Huck at Evil Prints. Huck has a diabolical persona. His printing press is named for the British Satanist Aleister Crowley. My fellow students were carving Huckish prints of devils and demons, fiends and phalluses. Being a contrarian by nature, I decided to make my print about my favorite saint, blessed St. Patrick.
Now I have these six St. Patrick prints done. I’ve got ideas for many more. Folks seems to like them. These will be on exhibit at Firefly Books, 230 W. Main St, Kutztown, PA. Show runs Sept. 6 to Sept.30. The prices range from $50 to $150. I hope to make enough to cover my frames and paper. My definition of an artist is simple. An artist is anyone who can increase the value of art supplies. After the Firefly exhibition I will print proper editions of 30 or 40. I will put them up for sale on my Moonpenny Press website when they are ready.