Érin go bragh: A Girl Scout patch offers a wee peek into Irish culture

March 14, 2009

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


"You can''t take your eyes off of a leprechaun ... for if you do, he''ll escape!" Paige Lawes told young, wide-eyed Girl Scouts sitting attentively in their seats. Lawes, however, wasn''t being literal; she was reading from a story, sharing a bit of folklore from the Emerald Isle, where magical tales of faeries, heroes and gods have been passed down for thousands of years.  


"What''s this?" she later asks a group of charges, holding aloft a raw, knobby potato. All the youngsters know the answer, of course, but they didn''t know the critical role the humble tuber played in Ireland''s history. 


And before they leave, Lawes, who is of Scots-Irish descent and is active in the Golden Triangle Celts, makes sure the 80 or so girls who make up Troop 320 in Starkville learn that "Érin go bragh" -- heard often around Saint Patrick''s Day -- means "Ireland Forever."  




Right at home  


It was all part of "A Journey to Ireland" earlier this month -- a trip to a far away land, made without ever leaving the comfortable confines of Starkville''s First United Methodist Church, the troop''s sponsor. What better month than March, and the days leading up to Saint Paddy''s Day March 17, to explore the culture of this interesting land? 


"This was organized by the older cadettes who are working on earning their Silver Award, and they''re leading it with minimal supervision," said cadette advisor Lisa Hearn. "It''s a service project and a great leadership opportunity for the older girls." 


"It''s quite fun," added advisor Laura Damm, who has been in scouting as an adult for the past 13 years. "We try to have a journey each year as part of the troop''s annual program. We''ve done Egypt, Japan, Kenya and Mexico, among others." As she speaks, two passing Scouts stop to show the colorful patches (not to be confused with badges) they earned for past journeys. 


The Brownie Scout pin is even a shamrock, Lawes noted, adding that in Celtic culture, a brownie is a helpful elf or helper.  


The Daisy, Brownie and Junior Scouts rotated in groups through five learning stations focused on aspects of Irish culture. In the history and geography session, the girls watched a video and studied maps of the island country in the north Atlantic. 


In the "tearoom," Irish soda bread and tea were served. At the crafts area, small hands made replicas of Saint Bridget''s Cross, a house blessing traditionally fashioned out of rushes on the first day of spring. In a nearby hallway, another group discussing Irish games and sports crowds close to hear the rules of a children''s game. 




Jigs and reels 


Eire -- Ireland -- is known for its free-spirited and friendly people, its landscapes, arts and certainly for its music. Near the end of the one-night journey, excited Scouts gathered in the church sanctuary for a taste of the céilidh (kay-lee), a Gaelic social gathering with music and dance. 


As fiddler Torsten Clay; Wayne Kelly, on guitar; his wife, Becky, on dulcimer; and Richard Brown, on mouth harp, played traditional tunes like "Mason''s Apron" and "Mulvihill''s Reel," eager hands clapped and more than 100 feet stomped rhythmically while dancers Gail Gillis and Lawes twirled through the quick-paced two-handed reel and, with Becky, the Galway reel. 


After the last notes faded away, several Scouts were happy to share something they had learned on their "travels."  


"I didn''t know it was part of Europe," 12-year-old Sarah Johnson, said. 


"I didn''t know they pronounced their ''th'' the way they do," added Catherine Buffington, 11. 


"I didn''t know they spoke English!" chimed a smiling Anna Hoyt, whose mother, Dawn, is the current leader of Troop 320. 


So, as millions of people around the world celebrate Saint Patrick''s Day Tuesday, there are several dozen girls who have a clearer understanding of the culture it is rooted in. 


And while they know the old country''s tales of little people, banshees and shimmering crocks of gold at the rainbow''s end are the stuff of myth, that doesn''t mean a smart girl won''t keep an eye out for a lucky leprechaun ... just in case.

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.