St. Patrick’s Day is famous for its fanfare and overindulgence in the use of the color green, with green dye even being added to food and beverages. Being of Irish heritage and growing up in the U.S., I have always decorated with the iconic shamrocks and leprechauns with their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
When my cousins and I were young, our Buppa (grandfather) would tell us in his thick, Irish brogue that he was a real-life leprechaun. Despite his height and barrel chest, we absolutely believed the man from County Tyrone.
As school children, teachers had us change our last names for fun on St. Patrick’s Day. I could never decide whether I preferred “McDevlin” or “O’Devlin,” and it wasn’t until I was older that I realized I didn’t need to change it at all – my last name was already Irish.
St. Patrick’s Day in History
Surprisingly, most of what we consider to be inherently “Irish” about St. Patrick’s Day actually has different origins.
St. Patrick actually began his life as an Englishman. He was born around 350 A.D., probably in Wales. He was kidnapped as a teenager and taken to Ireland as a slave. Later, he escaped back to Britain where he became a priest in a monastery. He then took his teachings to Ireland and is credited with introducing the Irish to Christianity.
His official color was blue, as is depicted in a number of artworks. Blue is also used on Irish coats-of-arms. It’s likely that green became the popular color for St. Patrick’s Day when the name “Emerald Isle” came into use.
The shamrock is perhaps the first symbol to come to mind when we think of the holiday. However, it is the harp that is truly the symbol of Ireland, and it’s frequently depicted on gravestones and manuscripts.
Leprechauns first came into Celtic folktales in the 8th century, probably originating from belief in fairies. The term means “small-bodied fellow.” These tiny characters were known for magic and trickery, and for storing their stolen gold in a hidden pot.
St. Patrick’s Day in Different Cultures
St. Patrick’s Day became an official holiday in Ireland in 1903. Outside of Dublin, the largest celebration is a full week long in Downpatrick, County Down, which is where St. Patrick is rumored to be buried. The world’s shortest parade is in Dripsey, Cork, and leads from one of the village’s pubs to the other—just 100 yards away.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Irish communities all around the world. In Britain, the St. Patrick’s Festival in Birmingham is a not-for-profit event that includes a parade, traditional music, dance, and food. In addition, the Irish World Heritage Center hosts the Manchester Irish Festival that runs for two weeks each year.
St. Patrick’s Day parades with their abundance of green began in the United States, where the first St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated in 1762. Boston, New York, and Philadelphia are particularly popular for their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
The chance that you’ll ever find a four-leaf clover is 1 in 10,000, but hopefully you have the luck of the Irish on your side. May the road rise to meet you!