No surprise that nearly everyone loves St. Patrick’s Day — especially if you’ve ever done time (worked) in New York City, Boston, Chicago or Savannah. What’s not to like with the parades keeping step to the skirl of ancient marches by bagpipers in their kilts and tall bearskin hats, followed by regiments of police and fire departments on foot or horseback, Emerald Societies and pink-cheeked school kids determined to keep pace in spite of the chill in the air?
In the spirit of the holiday, Z’Scoop uncovered some interesting facts and discounted some fables about St. Patrick’s Day. And please note — we’ve skipped the blarney, starting with the meaning of the word itself that came about with the Irish legend that tells us those who kiss the Blarney Stone (a block of limestone built into the foundation of Blarney Castle in Cork) is supposedly endowed with great skill at charm and flattery.
Who was St. Patrick and why does he deserve this hoopla?
St. Patrick’s Day marks the Roman Catholic feast day for Ireland’s patron saint, who died in the 5th century. St. Patrick (Patricius in Latin) was not born in Ireland, but in Britain.
Irish brigands kidnapped St. Patrick at the age of 16 and brought him to Ireland. He was sold as a slave in the county of Antrim and served in bondage for six years until he escaped to Gaul, in present day France. He later returned to his parents’ home in what is now known as Dumbarton Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow) where he had a vision that he would preach to the Irish. After 14 years of study, Patrick returned to Ireland, where he built churches and spread the Christian faith for some 30 years.
Many myths surround St. Patrick. One of the best known — and most inaccurate — is that Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland into the Irish Sea, where the serpents drowned. (Some still say that is why the sea is so rough.)
But snakes have never been native to the Emerald Isle. The serpents were likely a metaphor for druidic religions, which steadily disappeared from Ireland in the centuries after St. Patrick planted the seeds of Christianity on the island.
Intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain), Patrick’s strategy was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence.
Reportedly, Milchu was one of his earliest converts. And so, although he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe’s Christian centers.
This, of course, was very important to fifth-century Christians, for whom Ireland was one of the “ends of the earth.” Often, these missionary journeys took on the appearance of a parade.
When was the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade?
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in the United States on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City. Today, more than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States. New York City, Boston Chicago and Savannah Georgia are home to the largest celebrations. At the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, participants march up 5th Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street. Each year, between 150,000 and 250,000 marchers take part in the parade, which does not allow automobiles or floats.
What other traditions and celebrations honor St. Patrick’s Day?
Corned Beef, Cabbage and Irish Soda Bread
Corned beef and cabbage is a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish. In 2009, roughly 26.1 billion pounds of beef and 2.3 billion pounds of cabbage were produced in the United States.
Toasting St. Patrick
Green Beer is often served on St. Patrick’s Day at pubs, restaurants parades and celebrations. There is no trick to making green beer and it requires no special bartending skills. It is, quite simply, a light-colored beer that has a drop of green food coloring added to it. The flavor does not change, only the color.
It should be noted that if you want to drink like a real Irishman and celebrate the Emerald Isle’s heritage, nothing is more appropriate than a pint of Guinness or a shot of Jamison’s Irish whiskey.
Shamrocks and the Wearing of the Green
Legend tells us that St. Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the significance of the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. Today, the shamrock is firmly established as the most instantly recognizable emblem of Ireland. For good luck, it’s usually included in the bouquet of an Irish bride, and also in the boutonniere of the groom.
It’s part of the Aer Lingus Airline logo, as well as those of many other companies, sports teams and organizations. And, it’s also an integral part of an old tradition called “drowning the shamrock.” This takes place on St. Patrick’s Day, when the shamrock that has been worn in the hat or lapel is removed and put into the last drink of the evening. A toast is proposed and then, when the toast has been honored, the shamrock is taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder. Sláinte!
In the United States, it’s customary to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. But in Ireland the color was long considered to be unlucky, says Bridget Haggerty, author of “The Traditional Irish Wedding” and the Irish Culture and Customs Web site.
According to Wikipedia, a leprechaun (Irish: leipreachán) is a type of fairy in Irish folklore. They are usually depicted as little bearded men, wearing a coat and hat, who partake in mischief. They are solitary creatures who spend their time making and mending shoes and have a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Luck of the Irish
Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of “1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History,” tells us, “During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth. Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression ‘Luck of the Irish.”‘
The Pot of Gold at the end of a Rainbow
In Irish mythology a small member of the fairy family called the leprechaun hides a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Humans who are lucky enough to spot a leprechaun by following the rainbow may still have problems catching him because the fairies bestowed upon leprechauns the magical ability to disappear.
So however you choose to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day this year, we hope that you get in touch with your Irish roots and celebrate in style with family and friends at a parade, dinner with corned beef and cabbage, or with a tall pint or a shot of Jamison’s at your local pub.
And go ahead and admit it … on March 17th everyone is just a wee bit Irish!
History.com – St. Patrick’s Day Facts
Allrecipes.com – Corned Beef and Cabbage
Recipegirl.com – Irish Soda Bread
Wikipedia – The Legend of Leprechauns
Irishcentral.com – The Luck of the Irish
Reference.com – The Pot of Gold at the End of a Rainbow
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