We all know about four leaf clovers and shamrock shakes- but did you know St. Patrick wasn’t Irish? The biggest misconception about St. Patrick was that he was Irish. He was actually born in England around 385, St. Patrick didn’t make his way to Ireland until Irish pirates kidnapped him at age 16.
There were no snakes for St. Pat to banish in Ireland. Legend has it that St. Patrick chased away snakes in Ireland, however Ireland didn’t have snakes at the time. Surrounded by icy water, Ireland was the last place that these cold-blooded reptiles would want to go. It’s much more reasonable to think that the “snakes” that St. Patrick banished were representative of the Druids and Pagans in Ireland since they were considered evil.
The original color for St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t green. .When The Order of St. Patrick was established in 1783, the organization’s color had to stand out from those that preceded it. And since dark green was already taken, the Order of St. Patrick went with blue. Green was associated with the country later, presumably because of the greenness of the countryside, which is so because Ireland receives plentiful rainfall. Today, the country is also referred to as the “Emerald Isle.”
St. Patrick’s Day in the US has a strong political history. In the mid 19th century, the Irish faced discrimination. In a few rare instances, prejudice against the Irish was even more fierce! The Irish were culturally unique, Catholic, and because of deplorable conditions in Ireland, flooded into the US in large numbers. They were perceived as a potentially disloyal and were treated harshly. To combat this, the American Irish began to organize themselves politically. By the end of the 19th century, St. Patrick’s Day was a large holiday for the Irish and an occasion for them to demonstrate their collective political and social might. While the political emphasis has faded along with the discrimination, the holiday remains ever popular as an opportunity for festivity regardless of one’s cultural background.
St. Patrick’s was a dry holiday in Ireland until 1970. Aside from the color green, the activity most associated with St. Patrick’s Day is drinking. However, Irish law, from 1903 to 1970, declared St. Patrick’s Day a religious observance for the entire country meaning that all pubs were shut down for the day. That meant no beer, not even the green kind, for public celebrants. The law was overturned in 1970, when St. Patrick’s was reclassified as a national holiday – allowing the taps to flow freely once again.
Bonus Fact: Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are:
About 1 in 10,000.
For more Irish History- check out these titles