Navigation bar main page lyberty.com key to symbols

History of St. Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick's Day (March 17th), is an Irish holiday honoring Saint Patrick, the missionary credited with converting the Irish to Christianity (in the A.D. 400's). But many historians agree the man was not named Patrick, was not Irish, did not drive the snakes from Ireland (there weren't any), did not bring Christianity to Ireland (though he may have done the most to popularize it), and was probably not born March 17.

  The first American celebration of Saint Patrick's Day was in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1737.

  The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in the United States (not Ireland).

  March 17, 1762: New York’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade steps off: the parade will grow to become an event of paralyzing proportions, and it will never be canceled on account of inclement weather.

 Saint Patrick was not actually Irish. Historical sources report that he was born around 373 A.D. in either Scotland (near the town of Dumbarton) or in Roman Britain (the Romans left Britain in 410 A.D.). His real name is believed to be Maewyn Succat (he took on Patrick, or Patricus, after he became a priest). He was kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland (I am not making this up). During his 6-year captivity (he worked as a shepherd), he began to have religious visions, and found strength in his faith. He finally escaped (after voices in one of his visions told him where he could find a getaway ship) and went to France, where he became a priest (and later a bishop).

When he was about 60 years old, St. Patrick travelled to Ireland to spread the Christian word. It's said that Patrick had an unusually winning personality, and that helped him win converts. He used the shamrock, which resembles a three-leafed clover, as a metaphor to explain the concept of the Trinity (father, son, holy spirit).

Legend has it that Saint Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland -- that they all went into the sea and drowned. There's no reason to believe there were actually any snakes there however; this is probably an allegory for the driving out of paganism (snakes were a revered pagan symbol in some places).

  Green is associated with Saint Patrick's Day because it is the color of spring, Ireland, and the shamrock. Leprechauns are also associated with this holiday, although I'm not sure why. Leprechauns of legend are actually mean little creatures, with the exception of the Lucky Charms guy. They were probably added later on because capitalists needed something cute to put on greeting cards.

  What's good luck on Saint Patrick's Day?:


Here's Bill Petro's take on the tale:

ST. PATRICK'S DAY..

Although much of the life of the patron saint of Ireland is shrouded in legend, he was probably born around the year 389. What we do know about him comes from his book, "The Confession", which he wrote near the end of his life. It begins, "I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful...My father was Calpornius, a deacon, a son of Potitus, a presbyter, who was at the village of Bannavem Taberniea."

He was born, it seems, in the Severn Valley in England; British, not Irish. He was doubtless educated in pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain under a Christian influence with a reverence for the Roman Empire, of which he was a citizen. His father was a landowner and together with his family he lived on their estate.

At the age of sixteen, when he claimed he "did not then know the true God," he was carried off by a band of Irish marauders. Irish tradition says he tended the herds of a chieftain in the county Antrim. His bondage lasted for six years during which time, as he wrote, "turned with all my heart to the Lord my God." He fled 200 miles to the coast of Wicklow, and encountered a ship engaged in the export of Irish wolf-dogs. After three days at sea the traders landed, probably on the west coast of Gaul, and journeyed twenty-eight days through the desert. At the end of two months Patrick parted company with his companions and spent a few years in the monastery of Lerins. After returning home from the Mediterranean the idea of missionary enterprise in Ireland came to him. He seems to have proceeded to Auxerre where he was ordained by Bishop Amator and spent at least fourteen years there.

While in Ireland Patrick was both an evangelist of the gospel of Jesus and an organizer of the faithful. He battled heresy as well as engaged in trials of skill against Druids. There is some evidence that he traveled to Rome around 441-443 and brought back with him some valuable relics. On his return he founded the church and monastery of Armagh. Some years later he retired, probably to Saul in Dalaradia.

In modern times St. Patrick's day has become primarily an ethnic holiday celebrating Irish heritage in much the same way as Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian ethnicity in the United States. The New York St. Patrick's Day Parade is the largest Irish celebration in the world. You can't close down the schools on St. Patrick's Day without showing ethnic bias, so Massachusetts's Suffolk County closes the schools to commemorate March 17, 1776, the day the British cleared out of Boston. For the record, they call it Evacuation Day.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian


An Irish blessing to take with you today:

May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow
And may trouble avoid you wherever you go.

HOME