by Ann Robson
Who among us has not been delighted to catch sight of a rainbow? In almost every culture, the rainbow is a sign for good things to come. Of course, the Irish have added special meaning with the theory of finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The Irish believe the gold is guarded by leprechauns who constantly change its location. To date no one has actually seen the gold nor a leprechaun but any good Irish person will tell you, indeed even convince you, that there is gold to be found.
Scientists take delight in proving that finding anything at the end of a rainbow is impossible because what we see is an illusion caused by the refraction of sunlight on raindrops. They also want us to know there is no end to a rainbow, which is a full circle of which we can see only part. So, just as a circle has no beginning and no end, so it is with a rainbow.
Historians are quick to point out that several cultures around the world have various, often religious, meanings for rainbows. Greco-Roman mythology holds that the rainbow is a path linking earth and heaven. Norse mythology says that rainbows connect the homes of the gods with those of humans. In Chinese mythology, rainbows are slits in the sky sealed by the goddess Nuwa using stones of 500 colors.
Of all the stories told about rainbows, my personal preference is the Irish one. Who doesn’t want to believe that there might be one for which you didn’t need a lottery ticket?
Although we did see a rainbow in Ireland, and drove toward the spot we thought the rainbow touched the earth, we didn’t find the treasure. I’m reasonably certain there were some of the wee folk cackling in the hedgerows about three more foolish tourists.
The Irish have many other symbols that are real but have some mythology buried in their meanings. The Claddagh Ring is a very special ring showing two hands holding a heart with a crown on top of the heart. There are several explanations for this ring, which signifies whether the wearer’s heart has been taken-crown on top of heart, facing inward toward the person-or if worn facing away from the wearer, it’s a sign that the heart has yet to be taken. It’s a very convenient way of finding out whether someone is available or not. The story behind the ring that I was told was that in the time of Cromwell when the English were pillaging much of Ireland, there were a few jewelsmiths in the town of Claddagh, near Galway, who hid their tools from the enemy and years later began making the Claddagh rings again. I learned that from a group of elderly nuns at a tea shop on the road to Galway. Surely, these charming, smiling women of God wouldn’t lie to us.
Whether you believe in the magic of rainbows or the romance of the Claddagh ring, may you and yours enjoy St. Patrick ’s Day.