Soon the Leprechaun traps will appear in our home, constructed from oatmeal containers, Legos, Lincoln logs, and an old cracker box painted green. They get a bit more sophisticated every year, but the bait is always the same: the golden Legos and anything else the boys can find that resembles gold. In the many years that we have been “trapping” Leprechauns, we have yet to capture anyone, and, to be honest, the only real proof that we have of the Leprechauns’ existence is the havoc they wreak upon our house every St. Patrick’s Day Eve (a little-known observance, to be sure). They’ve been known to turn the milk green, to kidnap stuffed animals and dress them in green clothing, and even to write “Leprechauns Rule – Boys Drool” on our windows in green finger paint. Our sons are highly motivated in this business of building Leprechaun traps, because the sneaky little guys in green always spring the traps and leave behind some of their treasure: golden wrapped candy.
Obviously, there is no spiritual significance to this crazy holiday tradition — unless one values the teaching that God invented fun and delights in creativity — but, it certainly heightens my boys’ interest in reading stories about St. Patrick, both historical and fanciful. Flame Over Tara has been read aloud several times in our home, coming to us as part of our history curriculum, but finding a home on our bookcase and in our year. Author Madeleine Polland has masterfully woven two young fictional protagonists and their families into the context of the Roman Empire’s expansion across the Channel and Patrick’s arrival in Ireland in 432 A.D. Macha, a young teen, but of marriageable age in that culture, and her eleven-year-old foster brother Benet meet Patrick on the day of his arrival and are drawn by his mystique, his talk of a foreign God, and their father’s revelation that Patrick’s arrival fulfills an ancient prophecy.
With all of Ireland’s spiritual life in the grip of the Druid priesthood, superstition and magic are all the Irish knew of spirituality. Patrick’s arrival is met with distrust and outright hostility, especially among the Druidic advisors to King Leary. Young Benet is swiftly chosen to apprentice under Patrick; therefore, Macha is seized with restlessness and a desire to learn more about Patrick’s God. An impetuous decision imperils her family, endangers Patrick, and spreads political intrigue all the way to the royal palace.
Wise as a serpent, Patrick challenges the rituals of darkness during the Druid’s high holy day, trusting his God, his knowledge of nature, and the brain that God gave him. Drawn into the crisis, Benet demonstrates faith in God and loyalty to his mentor under incredible pressure, and Macha matures into a deeper understanding of what it means to follow the true and living God. Polland’s rich narrative provides the back story to many of the blarney tales behind the legend of St. Patrick, resulting in an account that is both historically enlightening and God-exalting. Flame Over Tara is a great addition to a homeschool curriculum and a great family read-aloud for the month of March!