St Patricks History

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick”s Day is celebrated the world over on March 17th, the day of his death in 461 AD.

St. Patrick and Ireland

Contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick wasn”t an Irishman. He was born in Wales to a wealthy family. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by raiders who attacked the family estate and sold him into slavery in Ireland.

For six years, Maewyn (his Welsh name) lived in isolation as a shepherd. Historians believe that it was during this period that he turned to his religion for solace and became a devout Christian. He believed that God wanted him to escape his isolation and so he walked about 200 miles to the coast. He then sailed to freedom where he studied for 15 years to become a missionary.

Since he knew the language and the Irish people, Maewyn was eventually sent to Ireland to minister to the Christians and convert the “pagans” to Christianity. However, he had to compete with the Druids, priests who maintained the old religions of the Irish people.

Patrick, as he became known, made use of symbols and practices that were already familiar to the Irish, winning their hearts and souls. For example, he is credited with the design of the Celtic or Irish cross with a sun in the center, as the sun was already a powerful symbol to the people of Ireland.

Legend has it that Patrick used the shamrock or clover to explain the Holy Trinitythe Father, Son and Holy Ghost as a single entity. He also encouraged Easter celebrations with bonfires, as the Irish had traditionally honored their gods with fire.

Although the absence of snakes in Ireland is probably due to weather and geography, St. Patrick is credited with banishing the snakes from this island country. Modern historians see this event as symbolic of St. Patrick”s success at abolishing paganism from Ireland.

St. Patrick”s Day History

The feast day of St. Patrick was long a religious holiday in Ireland. In fact, since it occurs in the middle of Lent, a season of fasting leading up to Easter, the celebration of St. Patrick”s Day was a special day on which the fasting requirement was set aside. To commemorate the day, the Irish people attended church, and pubs were closed.

St. Patrick”s Day parades did not originate in Ireland. In fact, they didn”t start until the 1760s in New York City. Irish immigrants in the New World were scorned by other European settlers. However, they were numerous and couldn”t be ignored forever. By 1845, the great famine in Ireland caused over a million refugees to sail to America to avoid starvation.

As Irish immigrants in America gained political strength, their parades served to achieve solidarity. In 1948, President Truman attended the St. Patrick”s Day parade in New York. This was considered an important political victory for the Irish.

St. Patrick”s Day Parades

On St. Patrick”s Day, the traditional yellow stripe down the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York City is painted green for the big parade. New York City”s St. Patrick”s Day parade attracts many Americans of Irish ancestry, but people of all nationalities join in the festivities.

New York isn”t the only major city to celebrate the Wearing of the Green. The city of Chicago goes beyond the green stripe: on St. Patrick”s Day, the Chicago River is dyed bright green in honor of Ireland”s patron saint!

Other parades occur in cities with thriving Irish communities like Boston and Montreal. In Boston, the parade is held in the Irish stronghold of South Boston, known affectionately as “Southie” to the locals.

If you”re free to travel in March, pack your green duds and travel to the east coast. You”ll have a wonderful time. Erin go bragh!

Resources

Black Dog (n.d.). Who was St. Patrick The Patron Saint of Ireland? Retrieved April 15, 2008, from the Black Dog Web site.

The History Channel (2008). St. Patrick”s Day. Retrieved April 15, 2008, from the History Channel Web site.