Label volunteer, Hannah McCann, shares the true origins of St. Patrick’s Day and how it is celebrated.
On St. Patrick’s day, it is typical to spot people dressed as leprechauns, wearing all green and with a three leafed clover painted on their cheeks – however does this capture the true essence of what St. Patrick’s day really is and what the shamrock symbolises? Growing up in Northern Ireland, I was told many historical stories about the Emerald Isle, such as the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill and also about the man who chased all of the snakes out of Ireland: Saint Patrick. What I want to explore is, apart from saving the island from ophidiophobia, who really was the patron saint of Ireland?
Born in 5th Century Britain, as a teenager, St. Patrick was taken from his home by Irish raiders to be made a slave in Ireland. After 6 gruelling years he managed to escape on a boat back to his homeland. He travelled Europe and in a dream he was told that it was his destiny to go back to Ireland; he bravely travelled back in order to spread the word of God and tell the Irish people about the Lord. The shamrock is symbolic to Ireland because it is said to have been used by St. Patrick to teach the Irish about the Holy Trinity, using the three leaves on a clover to symbolise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
St Patrick’s day is traditionally celebrated on 17th March as this is the day he is believed to have died. In Ireland it is seen as a religious holiday to commemorate the Saint bringing Christianity to their people. Although this is traditionally a religious celebration, it wouldn’t be an Irish holiday without throwing a party! Belfast regularly welcomes parades, carnivals and concerts throughout the city and, similarly, in Dublin, pubs like The Temple Bar have queues out the door and the crowds of people make it an incredible atmosphere. Although Ireland is a small island, countries all over the world join in on St. Patrick’s day celebrations such as Japan who host 15 parades and festivals each year.
America always loves to put on a show – and St. Patrick’s day is no exception! The first time that the patron saint was ever celebrated was actually in Boston by a group of Irish men in the 18th Century. Additionally, nearly a million Irish people fled to America during the Irish potato famine of the 1800s in order to avoid starvation and so the many Irish descendants on American soil like to celebrate their identity. One of the most impressive ways in which Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s day is when they dye the Chicago River completely green every year! Although, the Americanisation of St Patrick’s day has led the world to believe leprechauns wore green suits, when in fact, I learned a few years ago from the National Leprechaun Museum of Ireland (yes, that is a real place), that leprechauns actually wore brown and not green! (Sorry to disappoint!)
However, not every year has been a celebration. In early March 2020 the Belfast City Council announced that the annual St Patrick’s Day Carnival Parade and Concert had been cancelled and in Dublin The Temple Bar had no customers because of coronavirus warnings. Now, a year on, St Patrick’s day has been cancelled for a second year in a row. It is a difficult and sad time for Ireland and the rest of the world, but it just means that next year we will all be partying harder than ever before on St Patrick’s day!
Header design by Annabel Smith, Assistant Head of Design
Edited by Uchenna Omo-Bamawo, Culture Editor