Paris may be the city of love, but Dublin has St. Valentine. Literally. Whitefriar Street, a few blocks away from St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, is home to the one of the most unassuming church entrances in Ireland. Tucked away behind the low key entrance of the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, better known as Whitefriar Street Church, is a shrine to St. Valentine containing some of his relics; a casket of his remains rests beneath an alter and a statue of Valentine. Relics might not be the most romantic thing in the world, but in one legend Valentine was arrested for marrying couples when the Roman emperor had banned marriages. All those happily married men were apparently less keen to become soldiers and go off fighting for the empire, so the military needed a way to boost its ranks. We all love lovers who get together against the odds!
St. Valentine does not seem to inspire parades like St. Patrick does, but his relics did get a solemn procession when they arrived in Dublin in 1836 as a gift from Pope Gregory XVI. They didn’t get their shrine until the church was renovated in the 1950s and ‘60s, but now mass there on St. Valentine’s Day includes a blessing of the rings for those who will be married soon. No word on how many of those rings are one of the world’s favorite Irish gifts – the Claddagh ring, symbol of love, friendship and loyalty.
That distinctive ring gives Galway a claim as contender as a romantic city. The amazing coastline doesn’t hurt either. Of course, behind the Claddagh ring is another story of lovers who beat the odds. Legend has it that Richard Joyce was captured at sea by pirates and sold into slavery to a goldsmith, while his faithful girlfriend remained in Galway. (Mind you, without a cell phone he couldn’t even send a text to explain why he didn’t return on schedule.) When he learned the trade, Joyce crafted what might well be the most enduring of all Irish gifts – the Claddagh ring. When he was eventually freed, he returned to Galway and married his extremely patient sweetheart.
So while Ireland might not have the reputation of some other, warmer and sunnier European countries, it really is a very romantic island. All those ruins, crashing waves and cozy turf fires do make a wonderful backdrop for romance. We’re just more subtle. And admittedly, we’re usually wearing more clothes. But the weather just gives us more excuse to snuggle up together.
The Claddagh is not the only option for those searching for Irish gifts for St. Valentine’s Day, although they are available in an almost infinite variety of designs on everything from clothes to pottery to every type of jewelry. A ring inscribed with the words “mo anam cara”, which is Irish for “my soul mate”, is hard to top. St. Valentine’s Day is a perfect time to celebrate your love of all things Irish as well as your love for your partner.
Happy Valentine’s Day!