Yesterday, as you'd expect with my first name, I remembered the saint. No I didn't quaff green beer, wear a green shirt, hat or other accoutrements, but I did say Matins in his memory. I'll say right here that his life story has inspired me from the moment I first found a way to get past all the fairy stories, fantasies and legends that have surrounded him in the 1600 years since his death. That is what we marked yesterday. The 17th March is the day he died in 461 AD or thereabouts, very quietly in the small community at Saul on the southern shores of Strangford Lough in County Down. The name 'Saul' is a corruption of the Irish word for 'Barn' and it was here, in about 429 that he was given a rundown barn as his first church and home in Ireland.
My small sketch of how I think the real Magnus Sucatus Patricius may have dressed and looked.
My grandfather, the original Henry Nelson Heron, and the inspiration for my 'hero' character in the Harry Heron adventures, was born in Downpatrick, 4 miles to the west of Saul, and baptised into the faith Patrick brought to Ireland in the church now standing where the saint was buried. Whenever I have visited that place I can feel both of their presence still. It is, for me, a place of both refreshment and inspiration.
Henry Nelson Heron, aged 16 on the eve of the First Battle of the Somme. 1916
Inspiration is a funny thing, sometimes one encounters someone who leaves a strong impression, and that can find its way into a character in a book or story at some point. The same can arise with organisations, philosophies and even science. It is this last that always astonishes me and frequently inspires me to look more closely at something else, particularly my understanding of my faith, society and even our changing culture. Sometimes the impulse is quite subtle, and can be easily missed. An example of this is a conversation I had with the head of a national fire service a few years ago. I'd asked how much the organisation had changed in government since the fall of the communist regime. He smiled, and invited me to study a rather famous photograph of the communist parliament on the balcony of the 'Peoples Palace'.
"Do you see the people in the front row?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, a little puzzled.
"They are gone," he replied. Then indicated the people in the back row of the photograph. "These ones are now standing in front."
Yes, I'm a little slow. It took a second or two for the light to dawn. Then it hit me, that his example is true of just about every state and government, communist or not. The faces change at the front, but in reality, for the majority of the 'governed' there is little change on any other level. It certainly made me think carefully about how we perceive many aspects of society, and many activities we take for granted.
Yes, that was a rather serious revelation delivered subtly, but when one looks at life with an open mind there are any number of other sources that inspire us on a daily, weekly or even less frequent basis. All of life is a learning journey, and while it is often said that the late 19th Century was really the last period in which any individual could really claim to have a grasp of all human knowledge, the tendency today is to focus intently on only one small aspect and exclude everything else. I find that disturbing and a little alarming. My grandfather believed in trying to understand something about everything he encountered. It is something he inspired me to do as well. Yes, I do sometimes grasp something imperfectly, and I do get the wrong end of the story, or leap to the wrong conclusion. But the advantage of trying to gain as broad an understanding as possible about the world, science, history and culture, is that when I do get it wrong, it is pretty soon corrected by exposure to some other aspect or learning.
Inspiration is all around us, we do ourselves no favours by shutting out things which we find hard to grasp, or perhaps instinctively don't like. Sometimes we have to explore things we really don't like in order to uncover the reason - or discover that we should embrace it. In that there lays a whole new crop of inspirational experience and that can often be life changing. So, I shall keep exploring, keep trying to grasp knowledge and concepts I find hard, and hope to keep finding new inspiration for my books.
Right now though, I have two yound Shelties telling me they need to go out for a walk in the forest. No doubt they are also seeking inspiration as they check their daily 'p-mail' posts, all the overnight scents, and explore their favourite places for games, for chasing one another or persuading me to join in.