Prather’s Pick: A St. Patrick’s Day story
St. Patrick’s Day is about a week away, but this week’s column features a picture book to celebrate the holiday so that you have time to find the book if you decide to read it to your children or students. The book has a 2002 copyright, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a good book.
After reading the book to children, you might decide to tell them more about the Potato Famine or what it might have been like to immigrate to America or share family stories. You might even decide to explore different kinds of potato dishes.
“The St. Patrick’s Day Shillelagh” was written by Janet Nolan and illustrated by Ben F. Stahl. It was published by Albert Whitman & Co. The paintings in the book are beautiful.
The story begins in Ireland between 1845 and 1831 when the country was suffering from the Potato Famine. A fungus has caused the potatoes, the main source of food, to rot in the fields. An estimated one million people have died from starvation. Children go to bed hungry at night. That’s where the reader meets Fergus, a young red-haired boy. He’s lying in bed, listening to his parents whisper. The next morning they tell him that he needs to say farewell to Ireland. They’re joining other Irish families in sailing to America.
So the last night in Ireland, Fergus sneaks out of his window and goes to his favorite blackthorn tree where he cuts a branch. This is his way of taking a piece of Ireland with him.
One can imagine how sad the people are as they say goodbye to their homeland. Fergus is in tears as his whittles on the branch from the blackthorn tree. He turns it into a shillelagh. Fergus has no way of knowing how important the shillelagh will be in years to come.
In America, Fergus works hard. As the years pass, he marries and has children. Each St. Patrick’s Day he tells the family’s story of the terrible famine and the voyage to America. Whenever Fergus dresses up, as on Sundays, he carries the shillelagh with him, but one year when his son Declan is grown, Fergus places the shillelagh in his son’s hands. And now it is Declan’s turn to tell the story on St. Patrick’s Day.
In this way, the shillelagh passes from one generation to another. And then one day it got put in a closet, only to be found during a game of hide-and-seek. Is there anyone left who knows the story?
This book can be found in the children’s room at the Moffat County Library or the nice people at Downtown Books can probably order it for you. You might even be able to find it in paperback. The ISBN # for the hardcover book is 0-8075-7344-2.
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