December 1st, 2006

The Wearing Of The Green

We were helping Ruth choose carpet for her living room. I'd have gone for something green, but she hates green- so we found ourselves weighing the merits of different tones of beige.

Ruth hates green simply because she hates it, but a lot of people hate it because they think it's unlucky. My mother-in-law for instance. She has a saying, "black follows green." 

I've never understood it. 

So I thought it was time I googled.  This was what I came up with: green is a fairy colour and the fairies resent us wearing it.- best not to upset the little people. It's an Irish thing.

Not terribly convincing . And  how does one explain the St Patrick's Day parade?

Ah, but that's it! Green is the colour of Irish nationalism and in the good old days you could be stomped  for wearing it. I google again and yes, in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion anyone wearing the shamrock or other green favours was in danger of being hung for treason. As it says in the ballad

O Paddy dear, an' did ye hear the news that's goin' round? 
The shamrock is forbid by law to grow on Irish ground; 
St. Patrick's Day no more we'll keep, his colour can't be seen, 
For there's a cruel law agin the wearin' o' the Green. 

I met wid Napper Tandy and he took me by the hand, 
And he said, "How's poor ould Ireland, and how does she stand?" 
She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen, 
For they're hangin' men an' women there for the wearin' o' the Green. 

So black did follow green for Irish patriots circa 1800. And the taboo has its roots not in superstition but in political pragmatism. 

Yes, that's the explanation I'm going with.