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St Patrick's Day - A History

St. Patrick's Day: A history

ST. PATRICK’S DAY IS CELEBRATED IN MORE COUNTRIES THAN ANYOTHER NATIONAL HOLIDAY, AND NEXT MONTH WILL SEE MILLIONS OF REVELLERS ACROSSTHE WORLD RAISE A GLASS TO IRISH CULTURE.

 But before you dig out your green garments and start getting your Guinness orders in at the bar, or even buying your Irish at Heart St Patrick's day box – take a trip back to Ireland with us to where it all began.

FIRST UP, THERE COULD BE NO ST. PATRICK’S DAY WITHOUT THE MAN HIMSELF, ALTHOUGH YOU MAY BE SLIGHTLY DISILLUSIONED TO DISCOVER THAT NOT ONLY WAS ST. PATRICK NOT IRISH – BUT HIS NAME WASN’T ACTUALLY PATRICK.

St Patrick

According to his own record, St. Patrick was born in Roman Britain and kidnapped at the age of 16 to be brought to Ireland as an enslaved shepherd boy. He remained in captivity tending to animals for around six years,during which it is said that he felt a calling to Christianity – despite his then pagan surroundings.

Eventually he escaped and, after an arduous journey, returned to his family in Britain and continued his religious studies.Most historians believe that our patron saint of the Emerald Isle was actually originally christened Maewyn Succat but chose the name Patricius (derived from the Latin root Patr- for father) when he joined the priesthood.

Shortly after he was ordained, he is said to have a calling from God, to return to the country of his captivity and bring the words of God to those who lived there. While there is evidence of Christianity being practiced in Ireland far before the days of St. Patrick, he is widely recognised with converting a predominately pagan population into the Christian land we know today.

He is credited with baptising thousands of people, establishing hundreds of churches, and appointing an abundance of priests, nuns and monks to help him expand the Christian faith in Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on the 17th of March – the proposed date of his death. The exact year of his passing is widely disputed, but most agree that it would have occurred in the mid to late fifth-century.

The Myths

IF YOU KNOW YOUR SAINTS, THEN YOU’LL LIKELY HAVE HEARD THE STORIES OF HOW ST. PATRICK CAME TO IRELAND AND RID THE LAND OF SNAKES - CHASING THE VENOMOUS VIPERS INTO THE SEAS, NEVER TO RETURN.

While this is an excellent bed-time story, unfortunately science has slightly ruined its veracity by pointing out that it’s unlikely that the reptiles would have inhabited the Emerald Isle after the Ice Age –which was a good bit before St Patrick’s time.

However, that’s not to say there’s not a glimmer of truth in the tale. It is highly possible that the “snakes” in this instance were actually a metaphor for the druids who were leaders of the paganism practiced in Ireland at the time. St. Patrick,on his mission to convert the country to Christianity, drove the druids out (or perhaps converted them), and since then pagan rituals have ceased to be a part of Irish culture.

Another popular symbol of St. Patrick’s influence on Ireland comes in the form of the shamrock, the national flower of Ireland and the root of St. Patrick’s Day decorations all over the world.

IT IS SAID THAT HE USED THE LEAVES OF THE CLOVER TO EXPLAIN THE HOLY TRINITY TO THE IRISH PEOPLE. JUST AS THE THREE LEAVES TOGETHER FORMED THE ONE SHAMROCK, AND WITHOUT ALL OF WHICH THE PLANT COULD NOT BE COMPLETE – SO THE SEPARATE ENTITIES OF THE FATHER, THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT FORMED ONE GOD WHO WAS AT THE HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH.

There are actually suggestions to support that this could be true, as the number three is said to have held great significance in earlier Celtic religions. However, many scholars argue that there is no proof that any such lessons took place, and the only evidence we have to go on is centuries of word of mouth. 

 Be that as it may – storytelling is as rich as any part of Irish culture. Whether your St. Patrick’s Day chronicles are tales of snakes or are rooted in shamrocks, go ahead and share them with the world - we’re firm believers in not allowing the truth to get in the way of a good story!

The Legends

 AS YOU KNOW, ST. PATRICK IS SURVIVED BY ONE OF THE BIGGEST PARTY DAYS IN THE CALENDAR ALL OVER THE WORLD – BUT IT WASN’T ALWAYS THAT WAY.

 The 17th of March was originally declared as a feast day in Ireland in the early 17th century, but rather than heading to the bar to sink one of the 13 million pints of Guinness that are now consumed on Paddy’s Day, folk traditionally celebrated by going to mass.

The concept of consuming alcohol perhaps came from thenotion that St. Patrick’s Day was viewed as an opportunity of reprieve fromLenten promises. However it seemed that excessive drinking on such a holy daywas frowned upon, and pubs in Ireland were actually forced to close on the dayof their patron saint for a period of around 30years as recently as the 20th century.

It is actually our Irish contingent over the pond that we have to thank for the festivities that characterise St. Patrick’s Day today. While it was a rather muted affair in Ireland itself, the large population of Ireland’s descendants in North America saw the 17th of March as an excuse to get in touch with and celebrate their Irish heritage.

 St. Patrick’s Day parades are thought to date back to as far as the 1600s in Florida, while the world’s biggest parade has been dancing through the streets of New York since 1762. This means that, incredibly, Americans have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day even before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

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