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The History Behind St Patrick's Day

The History Behind St Patrick's Day

St Patrick’s Day is often thought of as a day for giant green hats and (a lot of) Guinness. It’s celebrated worldwide on March 17th (which this year is on a Saturday) and marks the death of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

But St Patrick’s Day hasn’t always been a day focussed around drinking.

Back when the festival began in 1631 it was a religious feast day. Sure, there would’ve been drink involved (although not Guinness, as this wasn’t invented until 1759) but the focus was around food and celebration, with parades, special food, music and dancing to commemorate St Patrick.

St Patrick died around the fifth century, and very little is known about who he actually was. According to Marion Casey, a professor of Irish Studies at New York University:

“We know we was a Roman, because Britain was Roman then… and that he was enslaved and taken to Ireland, where he either escaped or was released. He became a priest and went back to Ireland, where he had a lot of luck converting the Druid culture into Christianity.”

St Patrick's Day

You might also be surprised to know that it wasn’t until 1798 that the colour green became associated with St Patrick’s Day. During the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Irish men and women wore green and sang “The Wearing of the Green”. Before this, the colour associated with St Patrick’s Day was blue, because it was featured on both the royal court flags and on the ancient Irish flags.

Early St Patrick’s Day celebrations got just as out of hand as they do now, to the extent that Ireland actually banned pubs from being open on St Patrick’s Day so that people could spend the day in respectful reflection (rather than drinking.) This wasn’t repealed until 1970, although St Patrick’s Day had been an official bank holiday since 1903 (albeit one without any booze). During the ban, there was just one place in Dublin where you’d be able to get a drink on St Patrick’s Day, and that was The Royal Dublin Dog Show.

America held the first unofficial St Patrick’s Day Parade in 1762, when Irish soldiers serving with the British army marched through Manhattan to a local tavern to celebrate. The official parade didn’t begin until 1848, and it’s now one of the oldest (as well as the largest) civilian parades in the whole of the United States.

Sources:

www.history.com

https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/pubs-closed-ireland-st-patricks-day

 

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