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Every year on St Patricks Day, people around the world celebrate Irish Culture and Heritage. Whether you’re living in Ireland, or you’ve Irish Roots, the day will be full of fun and celebrations. But what do we know about St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland? What are the old, and modern traditions that mark his feast day on March 17th? Let’s take a look through the customs and curiosities of celebrating Paddy’s Day!
Saint Patrick is the 5th Century Bishop who brings Christianity to Ireland. As is typical of all Irish stories, some argue about his name, his origin and his deeds. Here in Ireland, we tell his story as a young man from Roman Britain, enslaved by Irish sea raiders in around 400 A.D. His birth name is Magonus Sucratus Patricius, the son of a Christian Deacon, and he is just 15 years old. In bondage, Saint Patrick arrives in Ireland and tends the sheep of his wealthy Irish owner for six years. Patrick prays to God “100 times a day and nearly the same at night” for his release. In a dream vision, God tells Patrick to leave Ireland’s shores and return to his home! He escapes to the coast, boards a ship to Britain and returns to his family. His unwavering belief in God has made him a free man again!
Back in Britain, in another powerful dream, his destiny calls. He dreams of a man Victoricus, who hands him a book. The title on its cover reads “The Voice of The Irish”. Saint Patrick hears the wails and sorrows of the Irish people, crying out for the “holy servant boy” to return and save them. Saint Patrick now actively pursues his Christian calling, studying and becoming a Priest and later a Bishop. In March 433 A.D, he sets sail for Ireland again, and lands in Slane. From this base he begins a mission to convert the pagan people of all Ireland to Christianity.
An Irish pagan prophecy foretells the coming of St Patrick “The mitred one will come, the end of his wooden staff bent”. They also believe his crozier has magical powers. His teachings are wildly popular, and he brings most of the Irish to Christianity. After 40 years of teaching, St Patrick dies peacefully at Saul (where he built the first Irish church) on March 17th 461 A.D. History tells us his body lies in Down Cathedral in Northern Ireland. Although never officially canonised by the Church, St Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland ever since.
Many stories exist about St Patricks time in Ireland. From these, two common emblems emerge. The Shamrock (seamróg in Irish), and the Snakes. The Shamrock is a native Irish plant, from the clover family, and has a distinctive trefoil shape. St Patrick uses the three leaves of the Shamrock to explain the doctrine of Holy Trinity to the people. Just as one leaf has three distinct parts, God is really three-in-one: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. Today, the shamrock plant is considered lucky.
Do not confuse it with the four-leafed clover – that’s something different entirely! Stories tell us that St Patrick also banishes every snake from Ireland’s shores. Hurray for that! Whilst we’ve never seen a native snake here, scientists will tell you that’s because they were never in Ireland anyways. Some see St Patrick’s reputation for snake-banishing as a metaphor for crushing the Pagan practises and old religion of the Irish.
Still, no snakes, all good! So what else did St Patrick do in Ireland? Every county seems to have its own tales and sites they associate with the Patron Saint and his mission to spread Christianity throughout Ireland.
Saint Patrick famously converts the High King of Tara to Christianity. In his time, during pagan Bealtaine festivals, every fire in Ireland is extinguished. The High King and his Druids light a sacred ceremonial fire on the Hill of Tara. Once the signal is seen, fires are relit all throughout the country.
St Patrick challenges this ritual by defiantly lighting the first Paschal fire 10 miles away on the Hill of Slane. The Druids foretell that if the fire is allowed to burn, it will never be put out. In outrage, King Laoghaire summons Patrick to explain himself. The King finds St Patricks devotion to be impressive and allows him to continue his missionary work without punishing him. Eventually the King and all of his followers convert to Christianity under St Patrick’s teachings.
In another tale, St Patrick summons the ghosts of the old Irish warriors Caílte and Oisín. He also invokes their companions from the legendary Fianna. He asks them to recount the adventures of the most noteworthy Irish heroes. Especially relevant is Saint Patrick’s request to hear them recite the Wisdom of the Ollamh. He considers this to be the most important order of the ancient Irish Poets. Enchanted by these wondrous tales of the heroic otherworld, St Patrick fears he is neglecting his Christian duties. He agonises over whether to continue, when two Angels appear. They reassure Saint Patrick that the old heroes tales hold great and continuing importance to the Irish. St Patrick summons his best scribes, who preserve the stories for future generations
Nope, there’s no connection at all :) The Leprechaun is a mischievous miniature man in Irish folklore and mythology. He is often depicted in a green coat and hat, with a pot of gold from the end of a rainbow. If you are able to catch him, you’ll get yourself three fine wishes to spend! See our Leprechaun range for kids here: These days, the novelty Leprechaun Hat and Beard can be seen everywhere on St Patricks Day. (Tip: If you plan to meet up with people at a St Patricks Day Parade, don’t use your new Leprechaun Hat as a proposed means of identification! This can only lead to tears…or many new friends?) So why do we celebrate St Patrick’s Day in March?
St Patricks died on this date, hence the commemoration. Some believe it to be a Christianised version of the Spring Equinox. Still others say that March 17th is the first day of the year according to the apocryphal Book of Enoch! Irish folktales tell of St Patrick’s Day celebrations beginning in the 10th century. It is 500 years later before St Patricks Day is officially recognised by the church. During the early 1600s in Rome, the Pope meets with the powerful Irish Franciscan, Luke Wadding. This famous Waterford man sets up the Irish College in 1625 and has many supporters. The Pope asks him to draw up a list of the Saints and Holy Days of Obligation. Wadding lists St Patricks Day as March 17th, and the Catholic Church officially decrees the feast on this date.
When did it become a bank holiday? Another Waterford man, Mayor Richard Hearne declares St Patricks Day a Bank Holiday in 1902. (Remember, no pubs could open on a bank holiday!) 50 years later, his son John Joseph Hearne was made Ambassador to the USA and presented the first bowl of shamrock to the US president in a Waterford Crystal Bowl. (John Joseph Hearne is also most noteworthy as the initial draft-writer of the Irish Constitution!)
This year, St Patricks Day falls on a Saturday, and some people will get an extra day’s holiday on Monday 19th. This extends the weekend celebrations in many of the festivals throughout Ireland!
Nowadays it is customary for people to wear anything green or featuring a shamrock design on St Patricks Day. Novelty items like Leprechaun costumes and Shamrock Lucky Pants are very popular too!
Typical family favourites include Irish Stew, Soda Bread, the “Full Irish Breakfast”, Bacon and Cabbage, Boxty and spuds of all kinds! Don’t have a recipe? No problem, our Irish Stew Bowl and Spoon has it for you!
Irish expats particularly go to great lengths to eat Irish on the day. Many of us who have lived and worked abroad will remember waiting for the parcel from home, with Kerrygold Butter, Tayto, and Lyon’s Tea! On the liquid side of things, pubs everywhere will celebrate the Irish classics of Guinness, various Irish Whiskeys and Baileys Irish Cream in particular.
The classic Irish Coffee always goes down well. Don’t drink, or are you the “designated driver”? Treat yourself to a lovely milky coffee instead, in our Galway Crystal Irish Blessing Latte Glasses