When Saint Patrick's day comes to pass each year, everyone comes to believe they are Irish. Cities light up green, Parades of Guinness and shamrocks flood the streets, and pubs overflow. This is how Americans celebrate it. This is our St. Patrick’s day and has since spread to many other cities and even all the way back to Ireland itself. Despite these widespread celebrations very few people actually know the story of St. Patrick.
According to Britannica, St. Patrick was once a real person who would later go on to be sainted as the Patron of Ireland. St. Patrick, originally from England, first journeys to Ireland as a slave in the late fourth century and later returned after escaping his chain to bring Christianity to the Emerald Isle. While he journeyed through Ireland St. Patrick was in constant danger of martyrdom however, he always treated non- converted Irish with the same respect as his own converts. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17th to commemorate the date of his death in 432. By the time of his death St. Patrick had completed his mission and constructed several churches and monasteries starting the process which would lead Ireland to become one of the most Catholicized countries on the globe.
St. Patrick's day has a similarly simple history. Food and drinks like Guinness and Corned beef are easy to trace as they both owe their birth to Ireland. To this day, Guinness is still manufactured in Dublin and has remained one of the most popular drinks cheered on the holiday. While beer has always been a drink for the masses and the nobility alike, corned beef is not. Beef did not make up the staple of the Irish diet but rather was primarily consumed by nobility exclusively. Cows have, however, been associated with luck. This is likely what lead to the association of the dish with the day itself. Additionally, waves of Irish immigrants came to America and found themselves making more money than they had at home. This increased the popularity of corned beef among immigrants as they could now afford what had once been a luxury and enjoy their own luck.
The Shamrock, the national plant of Ireland, is often worn as jewelry or sported in many other fashions to celebrate. St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Christian belief in the Trinity, making the shamrock a religious symbol for his followers. The shamrock would also go on to become a significant symbol for rebellion and nationalism complicating its relatively simple origin.
The color green by the contrary has the most complex origin story in its relationship with St. Patrick. According to Time magazine and the Smithsonian, when Ireland fell under the domain of the British royal crown, its patron color was blue. The depictions of St. Patrick manufactured during this time also show him cloaked in sky blue cloth which would become the official color of his order. The significance of blue in Ireland also dates back even further in history than St. Patrick. Early Irish legends and mythology often represent the sovereignty of Ireland as women clothed in a blue robe. The use of green to represent the Emerald Isle did not begin until the 1798 Irish rebellion where shamrocks and the color green became synonymous with nationalism. These rebels fought under the Confederation of Kilkenny and sought to purge the Catholic island of its Protestant rulers from across the way. The color reappeared with every continued attempt to push the English back across the channel and remains today as a symbol of national pride and independence.
The celebration of St. Patrick’s day, originally a religious affair, became secularized and began its movement into pop culture is areas with high Irish populations. Cities like Boston, notorious for its dense Irish population, were some of the first to transform the holiday, as early at 1737. Now that you know the history, let the (educated) celebration begin!
I am Morgan Dunham. I am 21 years old and currently studying History at High Point University with a minor in Psychology. When I am not working you will usually find me drinking tea and binge-watching Gilmore Girls for the eighth time.