Pax Global Media
St. Patrick’s Day – a pot of gold on the calendar, a chance to wear green (leprechaun hats, even) and a day for indulging in a swig of green-coloured beer – or a pint of Guinness, if you’re gonna do it right – at a local pub.
Happening today (March 17), St. Patrick’s Day is one of the popular cultural events around the world, celebrated by millions every year who pay homage to St. Patrick, Ireland, and Irish culture and heritage.
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just a celebration of the patron saint, it’s also a demonstration of the pride of being Irish and a source of joy that helps to kick off the spring season.
It’s a big deal: today, in Dublin, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set to involve 4,000 participants and draw some 500,000 spectators.
This year’s festival promises to be the most spectacular – actor and director Patrick Duffy (whose grandfather emigrated from Ireland to America in the 1920s), notably, is the International Guest of Honour.
Yet St. Patrick, the enigmatic figure behind this Irish extravaganza, is also “shrouded in mystery,” says Tourism Ireland. Whatever is known about the “Apostle of Ireland” is rooted in myth and legend.
Here, the tourism board shares five interesting (and unexpected) facts behind the folklore surrounding St. Patrick.
1. Patrick wasn’t Irish
Patrick is thought to have originally come from either Wales or Scotland, where he was abducted at the age of 16 and brought to what is now Northern Ireland as a slave. He was sent to Slemish Mountain in County Antrim – still a popular pilgrimage spot to this day – to herd sheep. But after his escape, he had a vision which prompted him to return to Ireland to spread the word of Christianity. Patrick remained in Ireland for the rest of his life, preaching, baptizing, and founding schools, churches and monasteries before his death in County Down, on 17 March, AD 461.
2. Patrick isn‘t an official saint
The man behind Ireland’s national day is technically not a saint. Surprisingly, Patrick was never officially canonised as a saint by the Catholic Church. However, the lack of official sainthood is simply because there was no formal canonisation process in the 400s. In Patrick’s time saints were declared by popular acclamation. Calling him “St Patrick” is likely to have caught on over time because of his talents, gifts and holiness.
3. The first St Patrick’s Day parade
It’s actually the big centres of Irish immigration in Boston (1737) and New York (1762) that have the longest laid claims to holding the first St Patrick’s Day parade, though recent research has suggested the U.S. city of St Augustine in Florida had one in 1601. This is long before they started in Ireland itself – the first parade in the country was held in Waterford in 1903, while Dublin joined the club back in 1931.
4. St. Patrick’s colour is actually blue
Before green came on the scene, blue was the colour associated with St Patrick. The earliest depictions of Ireland’s patron saint show him clothed in blue garments, not green, and in fact when George III created a new order of chivalry for the Kingdom of Ireland in 1783 its official colour was a sky blue known as “St Patrick's Blue.” It’s thought that the shift to green happened over time because of Ireland’s nickname – the Emerald Isle, as well as the green in the Irish flag, the shamrock and the idea of the country’s 40 shades of lush green fields. Traditions like the wearing of green evolved over time.
5. Snakes, what snakes?
Among the many legends associated with St Patrick is that he stood on top a hillside and delivered a sermon that drove Ireland’s serpents into the sea. It’s true the island is snake-free, but in fact the story is likely an allegory for Patrick eradicating paganism on the island. Research suggests snakes were never resident in the Emerald Isle in the first place. There are no signs of snakes in the country’s fossil record and water has surrounded Ireland since the last glacial period. Before that, the region was covered in ice and would have been too cold even for reptiles.
The National St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin runs from March 16-19, 2023. For the full list of programming, click here.
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