St Patrick’s Day is one of the few celebrations that brings together people from all over the world. It’s the only day where everyone is a little bit Irish! But how much do you actually know about this worldwide celebration of green, Guinness, parades and Shamrocks?
St Patrick was not Irish!
While sources debate where exactly he was born, either in England, Scotland or Wales, one thing that’s known for sure is that he wasn’t Irish. Born around AD390 to wealthy parents, not much is known about his early life.
According to folklore, Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He was held captive for 6 years, working as a shepherd, before managing to escape. Years later, after a revelation, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the Celtic Pagans to Christianity.
Why do we celebrate on St Patrick’s Day?
The date, 17th march, commemorates the day St Patrick died, believed to have been in AD461. As he is a Saint of the Catholic Church, the holy day is the day of his death, and subsequent entrance into heaven, rather than the day of his physical birth.
The Shamrock is much more than a lucky plant…
Although lucky if you happen to find one in the garden, the shamrock (a three leaf clover) was traditionally used by St Patrick to illustrate the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. Each leaf represented the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
St Patrick is unlikely to have driven all the snakes from Ireland…
Because, according to National Geographic, there have never been snakes in Ireland! According to legend, St Patrick is supposed to have delivered a sermon while stood on a hilltop, which was so dramatic that it caused all the snakes on the island to be driven into the sea. The story is believed to have been created to symbolise St Patrick’s driving out of Pagan practices from the country.
The first St Patrick’s Day parade wasn’t held in Ireland.
The first recorded St Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York City in 1762, although there does appear to be some confusion since other sources say that the first parade was instead held in Boston in 1737.
Either way, we can rest easy knowing that the Americans kick started the St Patrick’s Day festivities in the 18th century. And with the dramatic increase of Irish immigrants to the US, the March 17th celebrations became widespread as they celebrated their home country and culture. It wasn’t until 1931 that the first parade took place in Ireland, in Dublin.
Green was not his colour!
Despite all the greenery, St Patrick did not wear green himself. Green was actually considered unlucky, as it was associated with mischievous spirits. Instead, St Patrick’s clothes were blue, which was considered symbolic of Ireland for many centuries. Even now, the Itish Presidential Standard is blue.
Although Patrick did not wear green, the colour is still associated with Ireland. It features in the Irish flag and Ireland is nicknamed the ‘Emerald Isle’. When it comes to the sea of green worn on St Patrick’s Day, it is understood that green ribbons and shamrocks were first worn in the 1860s. Then, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the obsession with green and its association with St Patrick’s Day grew, to what it is today.
There’s more people of Irish descent in the United States, rather than Ireland.
An estimated 34 million Americans are believed to have Irish ancestry, in comparison to the 4.2 million people living in Ireland. The US has always been a popular destination for Irish immigrants, particularly during the potato famine (1845 to 1852) where millions left the country seeking a better life in the US. It wasn’t until the economic boom of the 1990s that more Irish stayed in their native country rather than travel abroad for better opportunities.
A worldwide celebration…
St Patrick’s Day is now hugely popular, with celebrations taking place all around the world. In fact, it’s actually the longest running civilian parade in the World. To help celebrate the 17th March, many famous landmarks around the world turn green as part of their celebrations.
Monuments include the Sydney Opera House, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Colosseum in Rome and Nelson’s Column in London. And in Chicago every year, the Plumbers Local 110 union dyes the river ‘Kelly’ green, which lasts for about five hours!
Why is it all about the drinking?
What started out as a religious feast day has now become a day associated with partying and drinking plenty of Guinness! From 1903 to 1970, Irish law declared the 17th March a religious observance for the entire country, meaning that all pubs were shut down for the day. It wasn’t until 1970, when this law was overturned, that the day was reclassified as a national holiday and the drinking could re-commence.
And the world’s biggest consumer of Guinness?
Not Ireland! Or even America. It’s actually Nigeria that takes the crown, with Ireland only managing to take 3rd place behind the United Kingdom. In fact, 40 per cent of Guinness consumed worldwide is drunk in Africa, while three of the five Guinness-owned breweries globally are on the continent.
Regardless of the top consumers, it’s fair to say that Guinness is an extremely popular drink. The drinks company estimates that approximately 13 million pints of Guinness will be consumed worldwide on St Patrick’s Day!