the past in pop culture

Tag: Ireland

Snakes on an Island

St Patrick's Day Parade 2007

St Patrick’s Day Parade 2007 (Photo credit: Out.of.Focus)

What would Saint Patrick do? The snakes are back. The New York Times recently reported that Ireland is now home to a growing number of abandoned pet snakes. After Ireland’s economic boom went bust, status symbol serpents became too expensive to maintain. Some of their owners just let their pythons, boas, and rat snakes go to fend for themselves, leading one young Dubliner to found a National Exotic Animal Sanctuary.

Although legend has it that he expelled all the snakes from Ireland in the fifth century, Saint Patrick would probably approve. Surely he would pity the more recently forsaken serpents. He knew a thing or two about making an unplanned visit to the emerald isle. Saint Patrick, after all, wasn’t Irish. He was born into a family of Roman colonial officials in Britain but as a boy of sixteen was captured by Irish raiders. They took him back to Ireland as a slave where he was put to work herding sheep for six years before he managed to escape and make his way home. Only later did he feel called by faith to return to Ireland as a missionary. Scientists, in any case, suggest that Ireland never did have a population of snakes, making the story of St. Patrick’s accomplishment more likely to be symbolic of his work to cast out pagans—not Pythons.

The island that could really use a little of the Saint Patrick magic is Guam. Since the end of World War II when U.S. military ships brought a plague of brown snakes to the tiny territory, Guam has been overrun by them. Local bird species had never developed defenses against snakes and are nearly extinct. And now the birds’ traditional prey—spiders—are forty times more prevalent than in the past. The slithery varmints also snap electrical lines, stage home invasions, and bite babies. The snake doesn’t stop there either: the snakes on a plane scenario has led to fears that Hawaii (another snakeless wonder) could be their next stop. Thus the U.S. Department of Defense has concocted a plan to strew poisoned mice into the trees of Guam to tempt the brown snakes to their deaths. How very Old Testament.

On most days, the poisoned mice plan might best be described as a Hail Mary pass given how defenseless the world has become to the phenomenon of invasive species. And indeed, Santa Marian Kamalen is the Patron of Guam. But on Saint Patrick’s Day, they say that everyone is Irish. Surely that includes the people of Guam. May Saint Patrick grant them the luck of the Irish, and a snake free future.

The Descent of Their Last End: A Son of Erin Returns Home

Smoking pipe fragments excavated at Duffy’s Cut, Pennsylvania. Some of the pipes clearly made in Ireland. Duffy’s Cut Museum, Immaculata University. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

After 181 years, John Ruddy has returned to Ireland to be buried among his ancestors at a funeral attended by descendants. In an earlier post, Royal Reliquaries, or Who Do You Think You Are?, we wrote about how DNA testing, archaeology, and forensic science have solved mysteries about the past both for the famous and for the forgotten. Richard III’s remains were recently identified, but so were John Ruddy’s. In the spring of 1832, John Ruddy and a number of other Irishmen sailed to Philadelphia and were hired straight off the boat to work on building one of the country’s earliest rail lines. Barely two months later, as a cholera epidemic raged, Ruddy and fifty-six others died at a site known as Duffy’s Cut.

Locals long believed that the mass grave contained men who were victims of the disease and that this accounted for the many eerie stories associated with the site. But a team of historians and students from nearby Immaculata University discovered when they began excavating the bodies, that some had died by violence. Forensic evidence suggests that some of the six men, and one woman, whose graves have been excavated so far, were murdered. The hypothesis is that local vigilantes wanted to prevent them from leaving the camp to get medical help and supplies for the many men who were sick with the cholera. Of these bodies, they were only able to positively identify John Ruddy due to a rare genetic abnormality that affected his teeth and that several present-day Ruddy family members share.

Members of the Duffy’s Cut project had the six who are unidentified reinterred at Philadelphia’s West Laurel Hill Cemetery last year. On March 2, 2013, Bill Watson, Frank Watson, and Earl Schandelmeier of the Duffy’s Cut Project, along with Sadie, James, and Bernard Ruddy, accompanied John Ruddy’s casket to its final resting place in Ardara, County Donegal, Ireland. In 1832, John Ruddy was just eighteen years old, a poor Irish immigrant who needed any work he could find when he made his westward journey, first to Philadelphia and then just thirty more miles to a cut in the woods. He has returned to Ireland at last.

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