A quick riff on St. Patricks Day history

St. Patricks Day history - Statue of St Patrick

Statue of St Patrick in Aghagower, County Mayo, Ireland. (From Wikimedia Commons)

Top of the morning to you — or maybe not, if it isn’t morning when you read this.  Today is March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, and I thought everyone could use a quick lesson on St. Patrick’s Day history.  St. Patrick was born sometime in the late 4th century CE, and died sometime, depending on the source, between 420 CE (Common Era; we history geeks use that notation, but it’s the same thing as AD) and 495 CE – long before electricity, internet loans, or penicillin – or hops in beer, for that matter.

He is acknowledged and revered as the Patron Saint of Ireland. March 17 has been celebrated for a long time, and is one of the most widely celebrated of all saints’ holidays.  There are some interesting historical tidbits about St. Patrick and St. Patrick’s Day, so let’s get down to business.

First, about Saint Patrick

Patrick (Padraig) was actually born in England, kidnapped by Irish raiders as a young man, and taken back to Ireland as a slave.  He was put to work as a shepherd, fled to Gaul (France), became a priest, went back to Britain and, while there, decided to set about converting the Irish. The hitch about primary sources (earliest writings of a culture) is you never know how accurate they are. So, the essence of St. Patrick is that he made a lot of early converts to Christianity in Ireland, including a lot of the nobility (there’s the rub!), and then there was that whole bit with the Shamrock and The Trinity. Dates of his death vary, and he was reportedly buried in Downpatrick, just outside of Belfast in County Down, a pilgrimage site to the present. I’m sticking to the short version here, so I apologize if my brevity is mistaken for irreverence.

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t actually celebrated until the 17th century at the earliest.  St. Patrick had long been the most important figure in Irish Christianity for centuries and was suggested for a holy day by Luke Wadding, a Franciscan priest born in Waterford. (Waterford, as you might guess, is in Ireland.)  It became a day of obligation for Irish Catholics during the season of Lent, as it typically would serve as a day of feasting, an obligated respite during a fast.

Green, as we’re all aware, is the color of Ireland, but the color associated with St. Patrick is actually blue. (There is, in fact, a shade known as St. Patrick’s blue, a slightly darker shade of Sky Blue.)  Wearing green was a display of Irish nationalism, and it started out as wearing a green ribbon or shamrock.  Irish expatriates would often don green clothing of some sort on St. Patrick’s Day, to commemorate the land of their birth that they had departed from.

But why is it so popular?

Well, the short answer is that the Irish emigrated to just about everywhere.  If you had to endure the conditions forced upon them by the English, you’d think about getting some payday loans if need be and getting on a boat to – well, anywhere – yourself.  Irish communities were common throughout North and South America, and all over the continent of Europe, and thus, with so many people of Irish heritage of some sort, many note the occasion of St. Patrick’s Day. Erin Go Bragh!

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