Here’s the question I posed to intern Sarah Evans yesterday:
I’ve heard people say that St. Patty’s St. Paddy’s isn’t really a big deal in Ireland, that it’s much bigger in the U.S. Is it true? And if it is widely celebrated in Ireland, did it become popularized only after big celebrations emerged in the U.S. and Canada, or was it popular before??
If you have time to investigate today that would be awesome!!
…and here’s what Sarah found out:
The day of green, shamrocks, beer, and hopefully a little luck–that’s
right, Saint Patrick’s Day. This beloved holiday is celebrated with
great gusto by many in America. But is it the same case in Ireland?
Well, to get to the bottom of this question, you have to start at the
The Patron Saint of Ireland was born in Roman Britain
around 390. Saint Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders at age 16, but
later escaped back to Britain. After completing religious training at a
monastery, he returned to Ireland in 432 to serve as a missionary. With
his passing on March 17, AD 460 (the exact year is a point of some
debate), he became recognized as a Saint, although he was never
officially canonized by the Pope.
Fact or Fiction?
Accordingto legend, Saint Patrick is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes. In
fact, most scientists believe that there have not been any snakes in
Ireland since the last Ice Age.
Many St. Patrick’s Day beliefs and symbols are drawn from stories about
the patron saint. St.Patrick used shamrocks, a form of three-leaf
clover, to teach about the Holy Trinity as three expressions of one
God. The shamrock is symbolic of spring, and it is customary in
Ireland to plant something new in the garden each day during Saint
Patrick’s week. Shamrocks and lucky four-leaf clovers have even become
symbols of national pride. I could not find the story behind four-leaf
clovers being lucky–any thoughts?
The color green has become a part of Americans’ wardrobes—St. Patrick’s
revelers risk being pinched if caught not wearing it. But why green?
The color green is a symbol of spring and fertility, and it has been
the Emerald Isle’s national color since the nineteenth century.
Drinking beer is one of the most popular traditions that appear to have
been exported from Ireland. Grabbing a beer—a green beer—is very much
an American or Irish-American tradition, however.
With a little background research, it appears that many American St.
Patrick’s day traditions are drawn from Irish custom, but the big show
is probably more Irish-American. Either way, it is a fun way to spend a
day in green enjoying a mug of beer–and hopefully a little luck.
St. Patty’s Paddy’s response from Sarah Jane:
Thanks to Sarah Evans for doing some research on the history of St. Patrick’s Day. Fascinating stuff!
I always thought of St. Patty’s Paddy’s as most closely associated with the
Catholic southern part of Ireland, as opposed to the dominantly
Protestant Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. But,
in fact, St. Patrick did most of his missionary work in Northern
Ireland, and is said to be buried there in the town of Downpatrick.
Even more shocking to naïve me was the fact that St. Patrick wasn’t
even Irish by birth–he grew up in Britain! This is really ironic in
light of the often tense relations between the two nations and peoples
throughout history–this “ginger” can attest to British ire against
Irish-looking red-heads from my own travels in England!
Despite Sarah’s excellent work, I’m still not sure my question of
whether St. Patty’s Paddy’s is bigger in the U.S. or Ireland has been fully
answered. Can any Irish readers, or others who have celebrated the
holiday on the far side of the Atlantic, offer some insights?
At any rate, celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day in America are perhaps
less about honoring Ireland’s patron saint as they are about feting the
coming of spring, the history of Irish immigration, and the enduring
legacy of Irish culture–which for me means watching adorable Irish
step dancers while enjoying a finely crafted pint of beer with friends
at a cozy neighborhood pub.
I assume the lucky 4-leaf clover has to do with the relative rarity of 4 vs. 3-leaf varieties…?
Sarah Evans and Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World