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Celebrating Irish History On St. Patrick's Day

Rainbow_LeprechaunCould you imagine a St. Patrick’s Day where all of the local pubs are closed and beer isn’t readily available?  The fact is, for almost 70 years, Ireland was in that exact situation and it wasn’t until the 1970s that pubs were open on the day known for all things Irish.

The pubs were closed because, from 1903-1970, St. Patrick’s Day was considered a religious holiday in Ireland; now it is a national holiday and pubs can choose whether or not to open their doors.


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A feast in honor of St. Patrick has been celebrated as a religious holiday since the 10th century.  However, the emphasis has shifted from the saint credited for purging Ireland of snakes to the people of the land he served.

On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City for the first parade held in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  The parade helped soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots and with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.  Celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day continued in the United States as an opportunity for Irish immigrants to celebrate their heritage.

In the 1800s, many Irish immigrants were looked down upon for their unfamiliar accents and Catholicism.  Newspaper cartoons portrayed them as drunk, violent monkeys.  But, as more Irish immigrants arrived in American cities, they joined together to gain social and political power.  Soon, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades became a show of strength for the Irish Americans and must-attend events for politicians.

Now, in the United States, Ireland, and other countries around the world, the Irish are celebrated through parades, concerts, fireworks and, most importantly, wearing green while drinking Guinness.

Here are some fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day:

  • St. Patrick wasn’t Irish.  In fact, his name wasn’t even Patrick.  Maewyn Succat was Scottish and when he was 16 years old, he was sold into slavery in Ireland.  When he became a priest, years later, he changed his name to Patricius (Patrick).
  • St. Patrick did not, in fact, chase all of the snakes off of Ireland so that they drowned in the ocean.  Some believe the snakes in this story to be a symbol of the paganism that he combated.
  • The actual color of St. Patrick is blue.  Green is associated with the holiday because it is the color of spring.
  • To celebrate the day, the Irish wear orange, white, and green, their country’s colors.
  • The shamrock was chosen as Ireland's national emblem because of the legend that St. Patrick had used it to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the idea that God is really three-in-one: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.
  • Another interpretation of the shamrock is that due to its green color and overall shape, many believed it to represent rebirth and life. The four leaves of the clover represent faith, love, hope, and of course, luck.
  • The name leprechaun comes from the old Irish word "luchorpan" which means "little body." A leprechaun is an Irish fairy who looks like a small, old man about 2 feet tall.  According to legend, leprechauns are aloof and unfriendly.  They live alone, and pass the time making shoes.  They also have a hidden pot of gold!
  • On St. Patrick’s Day, the Chicago River is dyed green with 40 pounds of vegetable dye.
  • In Seattle, there is a ceremony where a green stripe is painted down the roads.
  • New York City has the largest celebration and parade in the U.S. for the holiday.  Almost 3 million people come to see the parade which is a mile and a half long.
  • Countries that celebrate St. Patrick’s Day include Japan, Russia, Argentina, South Korea, Australia.  In Montserrat (home to a high number of Irish refugees), Newfoundland, Labrador, and Ireland, St. Patrick’s day is a public holiday.

These and other fun facts about St. Patrick’s Day can be found at the websites listed below: