St. Valentine is a near and dear friend to me. He always has been. An insufferable romantic, I used to love the exchange of small tokens of affection in grade school. The little cards, the "Sweet Nothings," candy hearts with endearing words like 'I love you,' 'Be Mine;' sweet nothings to some perhaps, but treasures to the tender-hearted.
Writing this, I remember having loaded my baggage with Valentine's candies for that trip to Ireland, and was delighted to present a bag of "Sweet Nothings" to a young cousin in the rural northwest who was off to a Valentine's Dance that February 14. The shy boy lit up for the first time on our visit, and whooped that he'd have a 'gas' handing them out to his pals at the dance. This lit up his parents, who later shattered my mythconceptions about dear old Donegal. They copped me on, indeed. There were rumors of the party drug, Ecstasy, coming into the area, and that their son would be handing out such innocent fun eased their minds and still tears me up as I write this.
The next day, we were packed and stuffed into John's sister's saloon car, a tight squeeze for our new family: my own sweetheart and the solemn newborn who occasioned the trip "home" for the Sweeneys. I stared out through the rain as we passed the last of John's old haunts: St. Mary's Rugby Club, the Guinness factory, the various favorite watering holes, and I wondered how hard his heartstrings pulled to stay there...home. How hard was it for him to leave all this again, and come with us back to Amerikay. A stoplight paused the journey across the street from the official Sweeney boys favorite bar, the Swan. I turned away, a little miserable, and there, a sidewalk's breadth away was my answer---a plaque mounted on the rough-hewn stone walls of a 1,000 year old church read: St. Valentine's Relic. Now, amn't I the silly woman?
There may not too many saints left in Dublin, but Saint Valentine is a permanent and legal resident. He arrived in 1836 as a present from Pope Gregory XVI and is there to this day. On February 14, the saint is moved from his usual spot on a side altar to the front of the altar in the Carmelite Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. This is Saint Valentine’s feast day, and those who are to be wed take part in a blessing of the rings ceremony in the church on this day.
Saint Valentine died in the third century. The belief that a bone or some organic material from a revered figure has power or can act as a conduit to power is confusing to those who insist on the facts and only the facts. To believers, the message of love across time and space is the simplest fact of all. It presents no problem and for them a strictly logical reading of events represents a failure of the imagination.
Saint Valentine is said to have restored the sight of a little girl and to have sent her a crocus flower before he was martyred. So the crocus is said to be his flower. Around this time of year in Ireland this shy little beauty pushes its head above the snow and brings joy to those cold early days of spring. It signals a new start in nature’s rounds and a time of hope. We can all use that.
If you can, visit Whitefriar Street on Valentine’s Day and enjoy the atmosphere and then, for more fortification, proceed across the road for a pint of Guinness in the Swan Bar. You can tell them Sweeney sent you.
St. Valentine's Irish Gift Basket from FoodIreland.com