The Origins
of Saint Patrick’s Day

Ever wondered how the shamrock became such an important part of St. Patrick’s?

Unpleasant or depressing.

 

Someone who looks after animals like sheep and cows.

Very difficult and tiring.

A small green plant with three round leaves.

To send something or someone away and prevent them from entering again.

The 40 days before Easter with restrictions for Christians on eating and drinking.

Noisy, loud or disorderly.

Cheap or badly made.

Irish gaelic for ‘cheers!’

Is there any other country whose national day is celebrated as widely as Saint Patrick’s Day? It doesn’t seem so. Let’s take a look at the origins of this famous festivity, the patron saint it was named after, and see how it became so popular.

Despite being such an important Irish figure, St. Patrick was actually born in mainland Britain to a wealthy family. According to his account, he was captured by Irish raiders from his father’s villa and taken into slavery in Ireland. He spent six grim years as a herder in which he became devoted to his Christian faith. He had a dream that the ship which would allow him to escape home was ready, and he made the arduous journey back to his family in which he came near starvation. After this experience, God spoke to him and told him that he must return to Ireland to spread his message.

There are many stories of St. Patrick, and perhaps the most important one relates how he used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish non-Christians in order to convert them. He was partly responsible for making Ireland a Christian country, but there are many other legends surrounding his life. For instance, it is claimed that he raised as many as 33 men from the dead, some of whom were said to have been dead for years. Another tells of him banishing all the snakes from Ireland by chasing them into the sea after he was attacked by one while fasting (note - evidence suggests that Ireland never actually had snakes).

Saint Patrick’s feast day has been celebrated in Ireland for hundreds of years. It takes place on the 17th of March, which is normally during Lent, but the Christian restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. This is probably why Saint Patrick’s Day has such a strong connotation with drinking and getting drunk. Modern celebrations are heavily influenced by those that developed in the Irish diaspora, especially in North America, where Irish immigrants used the day to celebrate all things Irish. In fact, the first parade was not held in Ireland, but in Boston in 1737. They normally involve parades, traditional Irish music, wearing green clothing and shamrocks, and of course, drinking Irish beer and whisky. Many of these celebrations are very popular and attract huge crowds and extravagant displays – the city of Chicago colours its river green every year, despite protests from environmental groups.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, especially those in North America, are not without their critics, as they are often associated with public drunkenness and can get a bit rowdy. Many also argue that they have become overly commercialised and tacky, with brands such as Guinness being heavily involved in parades and celebrations, and that they promote negative stereotypes of Irish people, such as in the wearing of ‘leprechaun outfits’ which are based on demeaning caricatures of the Irish. Nevertheless, Saint Patrick’s Day is a celebration of the richness of Irish culture and its influence around the world, so put on your best green, grab a pint of your favourite Irish beer and enjoy the festivities! Sláinte!

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