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The Patron Saint O’ Goin’ Green - Saint Patrick and the Celtic Engineer

Updated on February 2, 2013

Patron Saints

Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, Nigeria, Engineers, and the Excluded. Many people are familiar with the Irish traditions of the man and the legend, but not as many are well versed in the lore of the other three.

An enslaved Italian pig shepherd.

The name of the stating, Patrick, means nobly born(born of nobility). Author Terry Modica tells us that Saint Patrick was born in Scotland to a Roman couple that governed British colonies. Thus, St. Patrick was Italian by birth and British by residence and citizenry.

At age 14 (the BBC's research from Patrick's own writings says "16"), Patrick was abducted in an Irish pirate raid and enslaved in Ireland to herd sheep and pigs in what became County Antrim on Mt. Slemish, where he prayed for 6 years. There he learned the Druid Celtic language and customs and religious practices of the people of Ireland. He continued to pray, because he felt that his lack of faith had led to his enslavement. Interestingly, the motto on one redition of the Patrick surname family crest is "Pray and Work." The future saint became a stowaway on a ship bound for Britain and landed not far from his own home.

Apparently, these experiences aided him in his evangelism of Ireland when he escaped back to Britain, trained for the priesthood in France, had a visionary dream that Ireland wanted him to return, and returned as a missionary and then the second Bishop to Ireland, sent by Pope Celestine.

It was/is customary for the Church to proclaim a priest a saint after death, should a prescribed number of miracles occur related to him after his death. These are not listed to the public, but are likely recorded in the Vatican. As the patron saint, Patrick is considered the special protector of the four groups listed above, but most well known as that of Ireland.

The fact that Patrick was Roman and British (symbolized by the color red), may have given rise to the myth that Italians wear red on St. Patrick's Day. If any Italian readers do, in fact, wear red, I welcome them to comment below and fill us in.

Irish Miracles

Actor Doohan received a suicide note from a fan and contacted her and arranged to speak with her at a series of Star Trek® Conventiions. She later told him that this led her to here return to college and the attainment of a profession as an Electrical Engineer.

Magic Engineers

A considerable number of Nigerian engineers work in their home country and around the world, these professionals being addressed similar to “Engineer Roniagulo”, with Engineer or ENG being used as an honorific that is much like Reverend or Pastor or Professor.

Professions and education are considered quite seriously in the great nation of Nigeria and this honor is shown in such titles. Nigerian engineers are among the most well trained, innovative, and successful globally; trained not only in Nigeria, but also in England, USA, and other nations offering top flight education and training.

A legend and particular aura surround the history of the Celtic Engineer, including Scottish, Irish, and Welsh. These professionals have long worked in designing and improving coal mines and mining processes, seagoing ships, aircraft, and in film and literature – spacecraft.

The most famous engineer in space literature is likely Montgomery Scott, who appears in Star Trek® novels, television episodes, films, action figures and other Paramount® licensed merchandise, and particularly the novel series titled Star Fleet Corps of Engineers: S.C.E. The part was played by the actor James Montgomery Doohan, whose parents were both from Northern Ireland, County Down just south of County Antrim.

Other engineers among Star Fleet® ships have also been Celtic in heritage. The hallmark of the Celtic engineer in legend and story is the miracles he or she can work with a machine, tool, or apparatus. The fact the the Irish immigrants called the Molly Maguires, were the first group in America to organize for safer working conditions in our nation's mines in Pennsylvania, adds to the aura of the Celtic engineer.

Grubb Telescope, developed by the Irish Engineer Thomas Grubb

Grubb Telescope Company - Early 1830s - 1985.
Grubb Telescope Company - Early 1830s - 1985.

Engineers On the Land and In the Air

James Doohan, the Canadian that played this character for over 35 years, served with the Canadian military services in World War II and used his wartime experiences in his own futurist novel series The Flight Engineer. Containing three engaging, fast moving books, the series describes the exploits and miracles of engineering in the military and exploratory forces.

Saint Patrick is also the patron saint of the excluded and the Irish have been an excluded group several times in history. Exclusion occurred as the Irish were cast in the role of second-class citizenry variously by Britain, within Ireland during war between the North and the South, and in America as they were placed in the same role of Chinese forced labor and African American slaves or freedmen on our nation's emerging railroads and in the mines.

Celtics, often the Irish or Welsh and their children, settled around the mining regions of eastern and southeastern USA. They used engineering and engineering technician skills in the tunnels deep within the earth before the skills were identified as engineering by the Department of Labor. In these regions, as well as in the Northwest Central United States, the Scottish were also working in the mines. Many Celtics and others died in the mines as processes slowly evolved for safety.

Irish Engineering Firsts

Information extracted from the resource © 2007 STEPS to Engineering.

  • The word engineering is Latin “ingeniere”, meaning ingenious
  • Newgrange tomb, built 3200 BC, is 600 years older than Great Pyramid of Giza.
  • 1884. John Joly, County Offaly, invented first practical system of color photography.
  • 1893. Ferris Wheel built by engineer George W. Ferris
  • 1906. Alice Perry was the first woman globally to graduate with a degree in engineering. Queens College, Galway.
  • 1944.- James Martin, County Down, invented aircraft ejector seat.
  • December 3, 1992. Neil Papworth, British engr in Ireland, sent first successful text message to colleagues at Vodafone: “Merry Christmas.”
  • Three major inventions in County Offaly - 1.) The world's largest telescope,2.) The steam turbine, 3.) The world's first steam turbine powered ship.
  • John Philip Holland, County Clare, first custom-made submarine.

Miracles in the Mines

Coal miners were excluded by others long periods of time, seen as second-class laborers that could not find work anywhere else. Many of the individuals that excluded these workers had no knowledge of the work and skills required. In the 1950s, women engineers were excluded within mining as “bad luck” in the tunnels and this was slow to change, but it did change.

Author and former NASA professional Homer Hickam wrote about this in his Coalwood, West Virginia series that included October Sky (Rocket Boys) and most recently The Red Helmet, in which a new miner (this time a female engineer) always wears a red helmet so that the others in the tunnels can see more clearly when the rookies need help in crises. For a woman, it was a bit of a double symbol of exclusion, marking her as different in two ways - new and female, but miners did not fail to come to the aide of any red helmet.

Homer Hickam writes from his own experiences in returning home from college to work in the mines during summers. It was such exhausting physical work that began so early in the mornings and was so dangerous, that there was little energy available to the men, and later a few women, other than to work, talk at dinner, sleep, and start over the next day. If they were not so tired, these folks would have felt isolated and excluded from life and some of them probably thought about it anyway.

Miners often must have felt that they were excluded by other parts of society for working hard. I briefly visited a small coal mining settlement in late 1980s West Virginia, composed of a line of 25-30 trailers on one side of a major route near a mine, with an additional trailer set up as the school, another as a church, another the library, and another the restaurant and tavern. That was the complete town, where the miners were exhausted every evening, but still enjoyed talking with family and friends every night.

Patron Saint of Heroes

A great uncle of mine worked in the mines. He was 7'0” tall, so he worked while bent over at the waist for 40 years. Even though he contracted black lung disease from inhaling coal dust, he lived into his 70s. Fortunately, he escaped the tragedy of the Millfield Mining Disaster. Other relatives have worked in engineering technologies that resulted in the design and building of more effective mining machinery.

In the 21st Century, it is likely that the Environmental Engineer and the related Technician of all heritages around the world will become the heroes of the Green Movement for sustainability and alternative energy.

Perhaps Saint Patrick will become the patron saint of Going Green as well.

The Blessing of St. Patrick

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you

In the Hollow of His Hand.       -- Patrick, Second Bishop of Ireland


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