An Irish presence in Saudi Arabia is not so obvious from the outside, or perhaps even from the inside unless one knows the expat community well enough to know Irish men and women from the Fair Isle, or from the Irish diaspora to the Americas, Britain, the Continent, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. However, on March 17, St Patrick's Day, as the saying goes "Everyone is Irish!", and so we wonder about our fellow Irish in Saudi.
A diligent search reveals evidence of the Irish presence in Saudi Arabia even to the uninitiated. At the very least, there is a diplomatic presence, in the form of the Embassy of Ireland, in the Diplomatic Quarter of Riyadh. Their website--in addition to suggesting by the presence of services to their compatriots and advice on living and working in Saudi Arabia that there must be an Irish populace within Saudi Arabia--provides very helpful sites on Ireland, both for adult readers and students with school projects to do. However that presence is sufficiently small, that the Embassy also serves, or is "accredited to", the Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, of course, also has an Embassy in Dublin, Ireland, with the customary and highly informative information about Saudi in multiple dimensions, services to Saudis and foreigners, and information for Saudis about Ireland. Ongoing trade relations, as reported here and here, and most comprehensively at Enterprise Ireland, newer initiatives about training Saudi students on Saudi government scholarships in IT at Irish colleges and universities, a Saudi students in Ireland Facebook site, and the planned creation of a Saudi-funded Islamic high school--though not without controversy as described here, and here--suggest growing ties.
Those ties further include the development of relationships with the prestigious KAUST, and the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education, as described here by the President of Athlone Insitute of Technology. And of course the possibility of the Saudi Ambassador to Ireland buying an Irish football club is newsworthy.
Closer to home, or at least closer to the Saudi blogospheric home many of us share, Irish Eyes KSA, or Irisheyesksa, is a regular commentator on various blogs, where she long ago began preparing her upcoming move to KSA, in light of her husband's appointment to KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology). She has her own blog, Irisheyesksa's Weblog: Moving to KAUST, which traces that journey, and describes her current experiences in the Kingdom. Her About page gives her own details as a 20 year resident of the USA, with a wide variety of interesting careers, and as the mother of a 19-year-old, Noel, also with the family in Saudi.
Farther from us in time and space, but omnipresent at least spiritually on March 17, is Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, for whom the Catholic Encyclopedia provides a detailed biography, including highlights of his ministry. While this includes elements of history and hagiography, often historians and hagiographers differ in their perception of a saint, even if they agree on some details. In the case of St Patrick, it seems as if, like described for St Valentine in an earlier post, his current image is the conflation of 2 saints, the older and first Bishop of the Christians of Ireland (431-to his death) Saint Palladius (408- ca457/461) also the subject of a detailed biography in the Catholic Encyclopedia, and the later Saint Patrick (387?-March 17, 493; alternates 340-440; or 387-460 which many current historians believe is most likely) whose ministry in Ireland began in 428, yet who was prominent in the mid to later 5th century.
While the exact dates of Saint Patrick's life and ministry are uncertain, there is agreement that he was a Romanized Celt, a Romano-Briton born in the Roman province of Britannia. His father was a priest and his grandfather a deacon (this was prior to the edict of celibacy for priests and Catholic clergy). At the age of about 16, St Patrick was captured by Irish raiders, and taken to Ireland where he was held in slavery for 6 years before escaping back to his family.
After living at home for a number of years, and becoming a priest, St Patrick felt a calling to return to Ireland to minister to the lapsed Christian Celts there. While there, he also converted thousands and founded churches, primarily in the North West of the island. Two written documents exist proving the historicity of his life and mission. The first is his declaration of faith and description of his ministry; and the second is his explanation of his ex-communication of King Coroticus and his soldiers, for raiding and taking slaves amongst St Patrick's Irish converts: Declaration (or Confessio) and Letter (or Epistola), respectively. The Declaration also references St Patrick's trial on charges of a financial nature. As he had converted a number of wealthy women who became nuns against their family's wishes, and in light of his condemnation of Coroticus, these charges may have been social retribution.
St Patrick is often pictured with a shamrock, the 3 lobed leaf of a clover plant that served for him to teach the Holy Trinity to converts and converted alike. He is also pictured with the staff with which he is reputed to have driven out all the snakes of Ireland. While historically this seems unlikely, metaphorically it maybe that he was considered to have driven all the sinners, or non-Christians out of Ireland--by conversion.
As the patron saint of Ireland, St Patrick is revered amongst the Irish at home and wherever they settled, particularly among the descendants of immigrants fleeing the great potato famine of the mid-1840's, and the later turn of the century poor immigrants to a number of countries where today March 17th is feted with parades, traditional dances, and parties, which include the consumption of green beer, green foods, and green sweets.
It is interesting to compare 5th century Europe with 5th century Arabia. Both were at the time part of the declining Roman Empire, with Roman soldiers withdrawing from Britannia mid-century, under an onslaught of Germanic tribes there and on the continent, even as the fifth century on the Arabian peninsula was witnessing a transition from the prominence of the southern Roman province of Arabia Felix, in what is now primarily Yemen, to the growing prominence of the northern part of the peninsula under the spreading influence of the Byzantine Empire. This shift would eventually evolve into the Golden Age of Islam (7th to 13th centuries), as Europe was entering the "Dark Ages" or the early centuries (5th to 8th) of the Middle Ages (to the 14th-15th centuries) which eventually led to the European Renaissance (15th and 16th), prepared for and fostered by the Islamic Renaissance, particularly in Al-Andalus (to the 12th, and some argue the 13th centuries). [more on these topics in later posts]
The Byzantine Empire and the Arabian Empire/Arab Caliphate 650 CE
While St Palladius and St Patrick were ministering to the Irish, Christianity was making new converts in Arabia, from the Abyssinian influence in the South during the 4th century and later, to the 5th and 6th century influence in the north through the Byzantines. Thus, at the time of the Prophet Mohamed, there were already numerous Christian Arabian tribes. Some Christians converted to Islam, and some tribes sided with the Prophet in his battles, and negotiated agreements to live as Christians within Islamic Arabia.
Of course today, Saudi Arabia permits non-Muslim worship only in private homes without overt religious symbols, nor clergy, and so any St Patrick's Day festivities would most likely be highly private and on compounds. I have no doubt there is plenty of greenery, especially given that the holiday has not drawn the same attention and restrictions of Valentine's Day, and that indeed, on March 17th, "Everyone is Irish!".
In that spirit:
Happy St Patrick's Day!
How will you be spending St Patrick's Day?
What celebrations are customary where you are?
Will you go to work dressed in green, or with a green accessory?
If you are in Saudi, what manifestations, if any, are there on this day?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?