Beer, green clothing, tall green hats, shamrocks, more beer, stickers of leprechauns, Irish music, and… have I mentioned the beer?
It’s finally here! The favourite day of Irish people everywhere, not to mention of many others as well, since let’s admit it, every excuse for merry-making is welcome. Sporting the name of the patron saint of Ireland, this religious feast is enjoyed and welcomed by many countries around the world, notwithstanding the fact that it is mostly not just a celebration of a particular saint, but of the spirit and culture which permeates a whole country.
You might be one of those ‘laddies’ (as the Irish say) who like to drink, sing and drink some more on this day, but do you really know what St Patrick’s Day is really all about? Here are five important things which most people are not aware of at all.
1. Saint Patrick was not even Irish! – It’s true, though he is famous for officially converting the Irish to Christianity, Saint Patrick himself was born in Britain! At the age of fifteen, he was abducted and enslaved by a group of raiders, taken to Ireland, and forced to work there as a shepherd for six years. He escaped, went home, and after becoming a priest he decided he wanted to go back to Ireland in order to teach Christianity.
2. Saint Patrick’s is celebrated on 17th March because this is the day when Maewyn died. Yes, you read correctly, Saint Patrick’s actual name was Maewyn Succat, but he changed it to Patricius after he became a priest.
3. Everyone associates green with St Paddy’s Day, but originally the colour pertaining to the Saint was blue! When the Anglo-Irish chivalric order of Saint Patrick was founded in 1783 it adopted blue as its colour. However, over the years, as 17th March started to become more of a representation of Ireland itself, and not just the saint, the colour green was adopted. This is because not only is green associated with the Irish rolling hills, the mythological faerie and the shamrock – all of which are part of the identity of the country, it was also officially associated with Ireland since 1640, when the green harp flag was first used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. In 1798, Irish soldiers wore green uniforms on 17th March to make a political statement and thereafter green was also linked to Irish Independence and bravery.
4. Alcohol always had a prominent role to play in ancient feasts, especially in Ireland. The custom of imbibing alcohol on St Paddy’s can also be traced to an old Irish legend. In the story, Saint Patrick was served a very small tot of whiskey. In order to teach the innkeeper a lesson, he told him that his cellar was haunted and that in order to banish the demon there, he had to present every client with free whiskey. This the innkeeper did, and the cellar was thereby purified (smart Saint Patrick!).
On a more realistic note, the feast always occurs in the middle of Lent. However, parishioners usually have a dispensation and can drink alcohol during this time, which might account for the exaggerated amounts consumed with such zest.
5. Although Saint Patrick’s is an Irish feast, the first Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1737, and not in Ireland! It was celebrated by Irish refugees and colonists, mainly to honour, remember and celebrate their Irish culture. Today’s iconic Saint Patrick’s parade first took place in New York in 1762, when a group of Irish soldiers spontaneously decided to march (drunk I imagine) between taverns with their regimental band playing.
Saint Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland in 1903, with the first parade being held in Dublin in 1931. In 1997, it became a three-day event, by 2000, it was a four-day event, and by 2006 the Festival spanned five days, being not only a celebration of Ireland itself, but also a major tourist event and a foil for Irish arts, food and crafts.
How will you be celebrating 17th March?