The History of St. Patrick’s Day

On the 17th of March, we wear green in honour of St. Patrick’s Day, but why exactly are we celebrating? Writer Bronwyn O’Neill looks at the history behind our national holiday.

Saint Patrick’s Day is the time we pin shamrocks to our chest, go to mass, get steaming drunk and scream Irish songs at the top of our lungs. But where does Saint Patrick’s day come from exactly?

If you went to any Catholic school in Ireland, you know that Saint Patrick was a Welsh man who was kidnapped by Irish raiders and was brought back to Ireland to tend sheep. He then converted all the pagans of Ireland to Catholicism and drove the snakes out of Ireland.

What you may not know is that the snakes he drove from our country were actually the druids of paganism, as Ireland never had any snakes, unsurprisingly. The celebrating of Saint Patrick’s Day on the 17th of March is due to his death allegedly being on that date.

Of course, Saint Patrick in legends not only drove the snakes out of Ireland, as well as using shamrocks to portray the three beings in one of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is why shamrocks are a symbol of Saint Patrick’s day and, by extension, Ireland itself. It is also said he converted Oisin, from the legend of Tir na nOg, to Catholicism when he returned from the magical land.

Surprisingly, the first Saint Patrick’s day parade was held in New York in 1762, not Ireland. The widespread immigration of Irish people to America during the 19th century made the celebration even bigger throughout the States. Whilst the origins of dying rivers green started in Chicago in 1962, when city officials decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green.

Whereas Ireland is the country of origin of the saint and the feast day, it seems like Americans have really upped the  status of the festival. The celebration has morphed in recent years so it is not only a religious day now but also a celebration of Ireland as a nation and our heritage.

Bronwyn O’Neill