St. Patrick's Day History and Legends
WHO WAS ST. PATRICK - The Patron Saint of Ireland?
St. Patrick was a Christian missionary credited with the conversion of Ireland from paganism.
He lived from the late 4th century A.D. to the mid 5th century A.D., so long ago that it's difficult
to separate fact from legend.
St. Patrick was born in either Scotland or Wales, the son of Roman parents living in
Britain. When he was about fifteen or sixteen, he was captured and enslaved by an Irish chieftain
during a raiding party across the sea. He spent several years enslaved in Ireland, herding and tending
sheep and swine. It was during his captivity that St. Patrick dedicated his life to God.
Legend has it that St. Patrick escaped captivity and Ireland after a dream in which God instructed
him to journey to the Irish coast where he found a ship that returned him to his family.
After years of religious study, he became a priest. In a document attributed to him known as
"The Confession", St. Patrick heard the voice of the Irish in his dreams, "crying to thee,
come hither and walk with us once more." Eventually, Pope Clemens commissioned St. Patrick
as bishop to preach the gospel to the Celtic people. Arriving back in Ireland, he commenced an
incredible mission, travelling across the country, preaching and baptizing, ordaining priests and bishops,
erecting churches and establishing places of learning and worship, despite constant threats to his life.
It has been said that he and his disciples were responsible for converting almost all the population of
Ireland to Christianity.
LEGEND OF THE SERPENTS
The most famous legend about St. Patrick is that he miraculously drove snakes and all venomous
beasts from Ireland by banging a drum. Even to touch Irish soil was purported to be
instant death for any such creature. However, this legend is probably a metaphor for his
driving the pagans from Ireland, as snakes were often associated with pagan worship.
WHY THE SHAMROCK?
Finding that the pagan Irish had great difficulty comprehending the doctrine of the Trinity,
St. Patrick held up a shamrock (similar to a three-leaf clover) to show how the three leaves
combined to make a single plant, just as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost combined to make the
holy Trinity. The Irish understood at once, and from that time the shamrock has been the
symbol of the land. Irishmen wear it in their hats on the saint's day.
WHY MARCH 17th?
It is the death of Saint Patrick, and his recognition as the patron saint of Ireland,
that led to the celebration of March 17th as Saint Patrick's Day. In Ireland,
St. Patrick's Day is a holy, religious time with praying, singing and dance.
Outside Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is primarily a secular celebration of all things Irish.
There are conflicting versions of the first North American celebration. One source
says it was held in Boston in 1737 by the Irish Charitable Society, and later in Philadelphia
and New York by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Another source states that on March 17, 1762, a group of Irish-born soldiers, en route to
the local tavern of renown to honor their patron saint, staged the first parade in colonial
New York, complete with marching bands and colorful banners. Bystanders and passersby
joined the promenade, singing Irish ballads and dancing down the cobblestones. The event
was so popular it has been repeated annually since then.
WHAT ABOUT WEARING GREEN?
Ireland's nickname is "The Emerald Isle" because the grass on the hills is so green.
Everyone wears the color green on St. Patrick's Day to honor The Emerald Isle.
If someone forgets to wear green on St. Patrick's Day, those who are wearing green are allowed to
give the offender a pinch as a reminder. However, if you pinch someone who is wearing green,
that person gets to pinch you back ten times! Some of the biggest St. Patrick's Day parades
are in Chicago, Illinois, New York City, and Savannah, Georgia. The city of Chicago goes so far
to celebrate that they dye their river green!
WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH LEPRECHAUNS?
Not much, really, except that the leprechaun has been described as Ireland's national fairy.
Over the years, as St. Patrick's Day became a celebration of the Irish as well as a religious holiday
celebrating the life of the saint, the leprechaun has evolved as another symbol, with all sorts of
myth and legend attached.
The name leprechaun may have derived from the Irish word for shoemaker (leath bhrogan), or from
the Irish word for pygmy (luacharma'n). Legend has it that these aged, diminutive men are
frequently found in an intoxicated state. However they never become so drunk that the hand
which holds the hammer becomes unsteady enough to effect their primary business of shoemaking.
Leprechauns are also self-appointed guardians of ancient treasure, left by Danes as they marauded
through Ireland, burying it in crocks or pots. Marauding Danes might be the reason
leprechauns try to avoid contact with mortals, whom they regard as foolish, flighty, greedy
creatures. The legend goes that if caught by a mortal, a leprechaun will promise great wealth
if allowed to go free. Leprechauns supposedly carry two leather pouches. In one there
is a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is given away.
In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses to try and bribe his way out of difficult situations.
The gold coin usually turns to leaves or ashes once the leprechaun has parted with it.
Remember, if you do catch a leprechaun, you must never take your eye off him. He will vanish in an instant!
Happy St. Pat's!
BlackDog's St. Patrick's Day Quiz
BlackDog's St. Patrick's Day Fun & Games
BlackDog's St. Patrick's Day Fun & Games