Between the shamrocks, rainbows leading to pots of gold, mischievous little green men and the pub crawling, there is a lot to love about this fun Irish holiday, even if you are not Irish or live nowhere close to Ireland. But in between those sips of Guinness, it is worth considering these interesting facts about this Irish holiday.
1. Most people know that St Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious holiday celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, but did you know St. Patrick was not Irish?
Saint Patrick (known as Magonus Socatus before sainthood) was born in 5th century Roman Britain but was captured and brought to Ireland as a slave at age 16. He escaped, but later returned as a missionary and is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. It is believed he died on March 17th, 461. For hundreds of years he was forgotten, but then resurrected as the Patron Saint of Ireland in the early 17th century, hence the celebration of St Patrick’s Day on March 17th, the day he died.
2. Until recently all pubs were required by law to be closed on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.
St Patrick’s Day was originally a religious holiday and thus Irish laws mandated that all pubs be closed on March 17th. This law was on the books until the 1970s.
Beginning in 1995, the Irish government saw the potential to use global interest in St. Patrick’s Day to stimulate tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world. Today, about 1 million people converge on the cobbled streets of Dublin to enjoy St. Patrick’s Festival, a multi-day celebration with parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions, fireworks and of course, lots of pub crawling.
3. It is a huge faux pax to call the holiday St. Patty’s Day. The correct names are St. Patrick’s Day and St. Paddy’s Day.
The Dublin Airport has finally had enough with tourists arriving in March to celebrate “St. Patty’s Day.” This is not because the Irish are unwelcoming, but because the correct abbreviation is St. Paddy’s Day. Paddy is appropriate because it is an abbreviation of Padraig, a variant of the name Patrick, while Patty is an abbreviation for Patricia. The Dublin Airport posted the following message on their Facebook page today:
“Don’t call it St. Patty’s Day. Also, March 17 should never be referred to as Patty’s Day either. You may, however, call it St. Paddy’s Day, or Paddy’s Day. Also acceptable are the traditional St. Patrick’s Day and Patrick’s Day. Please share this simple message with your friends and relations in the United States and Canada. Using the power of your network, hopefully we can banish the scourge of St Patty once and for all.”
4. The St. Patrick‘s Day parade was invented in the United States.
On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English army marched through New York City. The parade and accompanying music helped the soldiers celebrate with their Irish roots, as well as reconnect with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.
5. More than 100 St Patrick’s Day parades are held every year in the United States. The biggest celebrations are in New York City and Boston.
In 1848, several New York Irish Aid societies united their parades to form one official New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade has become the one of the largest St Patrick’s parades with about 200,000 participants and 3 million onlookers. It is also the oldest civilian parade in the United States.
6. The world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade is in Dripsey, Cork. The parade lasts just 100 yards and travels between the village’s two pubs.
7. Shamrocks refer to many plants not just one.
There still is no scientific consensus as to the precise botanical species of clover that is the true shamrock. The word shamrock refers primarily to the young springs of white or red clover, but sometimes the term is applied to a variety of three-leaved plants found in Ireland. The shamrock was originally associated with the Goddess of Ireland, Ana, but over time it became associated with St. Patrick’s Day because it is believed that Saint Patrick used the three-leafed clover to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. For good luck, the shamrock is usually included in an Irish bride’s bouquet and the boutonniere of the groom regardless of the day they marry.
8. The color of Saint Patrick was blue not green.
A particular blue hue was known as St. Patrick blue and for hundreds of years it was this blue that was associated with the holiday. However, green became the dominant color of St Patrick’s day over time as the holiday was used to highlight Irish nationalism against British rule in the 1790s. Now, the color green is often associated with the other more poetic name for Ireland, the Emerald Isles.
9. Wearing of the green started as a song of resistance.
The phrase “wearing of the green” comes from a street ballad of the same name (see video below), which lamented the British repression of the Irish in 1798. At the time, just wearing a shamrock in your lapel or green clothing was seen as rebellious act by the British authorities and potentially even punishable by death. There are numerous versions of the song, but the somber line “they are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green” appears in most versions. Wearing of the Green is now a popular pub sing-along and something that is done en masse on St Patrick’s Day.
10. Chicago dyes its river green on St. Patrick’s Day.
Yes, for decades, Chicago has turned its river neon green every St. Patrick’s Day. At first I was horrified, but then I happily learned that the city uses natural veggie dye. The practice started in 1962 when city workers started using dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye would be a unique way to celebrate March 17th in this very Irish city. During their first attempt, they released enough green vegetable dye (100 pounds) into the river to keep it green for a week. Today, with an eye towards environmental caution, only 40 pounds of dye are used, and the river turns green for only several hours.
11. St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in space – twice.
In 2011, the International Space Station hosted a St. Paddy’s Day celebration with Irish-Ameircan astronaut Catherine Coleman playing a hundred-year-old flute and a tin whistle belonging to members of the Irish group, the Chieftains, while floating weightlessly in space. Coleman’s performance was included in a track entitled ”The Chieftains In Orbit” on the group’s album, Voice of Ages.
In 2013, astronaut, Chris Hadfield, celebrated St Patrick’s Day by photographing Ireland from space while singing Danny Boy.
12. If you want to really impress an Irishman or woman try this tongue-twister: Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!).
Next page: Video of the Irish song Wearing of the Green