St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on March 17th, is celebrated around the world. For many people this festival brings to mind Irish leprechauns, dressing in green and, of course, pints of Guinness. However, there is more to St. Patrick’s Day than just beer and fancy dress and this article explores some of the lesser-known facts about the day.
Firstly, it is important to investigate who St. Patrick was and why he is associated with this day of revelry. Contrary to what many people may believe, he was, in fact, from Wales, and wasn’t Irish by birth. When he was just sixteen years old, it is alleged that he was captured and taken as a slave to Ireland. While he was there he converted to Christianity and claims he heard voices telling him to go back to Great Britain. According to biographer Philip Freeman, these voices told Patrick to go back to Ireland and to teach the Irish about Christianity. This is why he is accredited with bringing the Christian faith to the Emerald Isle. St. Patrick came across a lot of opposition whilst carrying out his mission and he died in relative anonymity in 461 AD. Many myths now surround his life and work.
One of the most popular tales about St. Patrick is that he got rid of all the snakes in Ireland. However, although there are no snakes in Ireland today, there never were. Freeman argues that this story surrounding the banishing of snakes from the Emerald Isle was a metaphor for the fact that St. Patrick “drove the old, evil, pagan ways out of Ireland” (National Geographic, March 16, 2012, John Roach).
Today, March 17th is a day of celebration around the world and if you’ve ever spent St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, or America for that matter, you’ll know that everything is turned green: people wear green clothes, drink green beer and, in the case of various cities, including Chicago, even dye the rivers bright emerald green. However, this colour, which is synonymous with Ireland for many people, has not always been linked to the country nor to this festival. For centuries, the symbolic colour both of Ireland and of St. Patrick’s Day was blue. Green was only adopted when various political groups started to wear it during the 19th Century.
Most interestingly perhaps, is the fact that the first St. Patrick’s day parade was not held in Ireland but instead, was held in the United States. Whilst the city of Boston claims to have held the first parade in 1937, many have argued that the first official parade was in New York City in 1766. The festival’s popularity in America is due to the country’s large number of descendents of Irish immigrants. Approximately 36 millions people living in America today claim to be of Irish descent. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, thousands of Irish men and women left Ireland to escape famine and to seek a better life in America. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the cities with the highest numbers of Irish-Americans, such as Boston, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois are well-known for their elaborate celebrations on March 17th.
To conclude, it is evident that there are many myths surrounding the festival of Ireland’s patron saint. For many people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day around the world, it is simply an excuse to drink beer and to toast their distant Irish roots. However, it may be worth remembering the work of St. Patrick and the sacrifices he made in order to take Christianity to the Emerald Isle.