The Life and Death of St. Patrick
St. Patrick was born in Wales around 385 AD
with the given name of Maewyn and grew up within a village on the isle
to rich parents.
Historians are unsure of how religious he may have been, but there seems
to be evidence that his father was a deacon for a Catholic church or
monastery. At about the age of sixteen, his village (was pillaged by
Irish raiders and he was sold into slavery. He worked for an Irish
Chieftain in Ulster. It was as a slave that he
first learned of Gods love and wanted to be closer to him, so when he
escaped after six years of captivity, he first went to study in a
monetary off the coast of France called Lerins, then went to study at
the Auxerre monastery in Gaul under
the tutelage of Bishop St. Germain (Germanus). It was during this time that he took on
the Christian name of Patrick.
He wished to go back to Ireland to convert
the pagans to Christianity and believed that to be gods will. After a
few years he was sent to Ireland for that reason, and eventually
retained the office of Bishop. He converted many bishops to the dismay
of the local non-Christian tribes, such as the Celtic Druids. In fact
he was arrested several times for his action, but escaped every time.
He organized Christian schools and started monasteries throughout
He wrote two essays during his lifetime,
the Confessio (a spiritual autobiography) and Epistola (a
recitation of the poor treatment of Christians in Ireland by the British
Government). It is from these works, that we get most of our information
about St. Patrick and his life.
When he retired, he moved to Country Down
and passed away on March 17, 461. There are two theories as to the place
of death, Saul,
Downpatrick, Ireland and Glastonbury, England, neither of which can be
confirmed. His life has been
celebrated every year since on the date of his death.
The Catholic Church ordained Patrick as a
Saint - the Patron Saint of Ireland.
St. Patrick's Day Celebration History
St. Patrick’s followers began to celebrate
the life of this great man each year on the date of his death by holding
a feast and this tradition has continued each year. Followers would
stitch shamrocks onto their clothing for the feast days as well.
The tradition of celebrating St. Patrick spread throughout Ireland over
the years. The celebration also had a second theme, one of
blessing missionaries around the world.
As the Irish began to immigrate into other
parts of the world, especially during the 18th and 19th centuries, they
took their traditions and customs with them. Although they would
meet other Christians around the world, the observance of St. Patrick's
Day was something in common the Irish Catholics could celebrate to bring
The first St. Patrick’s celebration in the
United States was held in a Church in Boston in 1737 by very early Irish
settlers. The first Easter parade was held in the New York City in
the United States in 1762 (March 17th) by Irish men enlisted in the
British Army. Smaller parades became annual events in many Irish
communities. In 1848, the New York Irish Aid Society consolidated
many of the smaller parades in New York State into one combined grand
parade each year in New York City. It is the oldest ongoing
civilian parade in the world with tens of thousands of participants and
millions of spectators each year.
Other large cities have their own parades
each year as well, although none as large as this. However,
Chicago has its own unique way of celebrating this holiday, since 1962,
it turns the Chicago River the color green (the green dye used has a
second purpose, it is also used to track illegal sewage).
The holiday is celebrated worldwide by
people of all faiths as a day of celebration, usually spent with good
friends with lots of food and alcohol. However, it is interesting
to note that in Ireland it is still mostly a religious holiday and until
the 1970's bars and taverns were closed on St. Patrick's day.
Ironically, the Irish government has recently been using this holiday as
a ploy to increase tourism during this time of year.
Folklore and Myths of St. Patrick
There are many legends about Saint Patrick
beyond what we know for fact above. Some of the stories include:
Drove all the snakes from Ireland
There has never been evidence that
snakes ever existed naturally in Ireland
This may be symbolic of driving out
pagan believes from Ireland, since many older non-Christian
religions used serpentine symbols in their rituals and beliefs
Used a Shamrock to convert pagans to
Christianity (there is some truth to this, read below)
Raising people from the dead
How the Shamrock
became a part of St. Patrick's Day and Irish Tradition
It is believed that St. Patrick used a
Shamrock (three leaf clover), which is found in the fields of Ireland,
to explain the holy Trinity. There are three leaves which are all part
of the whole, just like the father, son and the holy spirit. The
Shamrock was called the seamroy by the native Celtics. The
symbol of the Shamrock also became a symbol of unity by the Irish
against the British who wanted to take over all of their lands, destroy
their culture and put an end to their language. The shamrock has become
a part of the symbol of Great Britain and on Saint Patrick's day, a
member of the British Royal Family gives shamrocks to the Irish members
of the Royal Gaurd.
Traditional Irish music almost was put out
of existence. When the British took over Ireland, they forbid anything
to do with old Irish culture, language and tradition. The only way
to hold on to the old ways was through music. In music the traditions
and stories lived on. However, even music was not safe and there
was even a decree placed by Queen Elizabeth I to hand all artists and
pipers during her rein.
Corned Beef and Cabbage, an Irish
Traditional food at Irish celebrations
included Irish Bacon and Cabbage, however, many poor immigrants who came
to the U.S. did not have money to buy bacon, so they substituted the
less expensive Corned Beef for their fanfare (the idea probably came
from their immigrant Jewish neighbors).
The History and Orign of Leprechauns
Leprachauns have appeared in Irish and
Celtic folk tales for hundreds of years. They were usually portrayed as
tiny men with magical powers who were cranky and were known for using
trickery to protect their gold. They often held minor roles in most
tales. Leprechauns are called
in Gaelic and
is interpreted as "small bodied fellow." One of the
legends is that if you catch a leprechaun, you can make him tell you
where he hid his treasure - usually a pot of gold at the end of a
The modern portrayal of leprechauns comes
from Hollywood in Disney's movie entitled
& the Little People (1959) where a young Sean Connery becomes
caretaker of an estate where he comes face to face with the ever playful
and cheerful Leprechaun king.
There really is a blarney stone. It is one
of the stones that are a part of the wall of the Blarney Castle tower
(located in the town of Blarney, Ireland). There is a story told that a
sorceress cast a magic spell upon this stone to reward a King for saving
her from drowning when he only thought her to be just a simple old
woman. The legend states that anyone who kisses this stone will have the
gift of persuasion, especially to the opposite sex.
The Color Green
Although Kermit the Frog may sing about
being green, green is not a color associated with the Irish or St.
Patrick's day outside of the United States. The color may be
associated with the old Irish flag, which was green, but brings back
days of oppression to native Irishmen and women. In the United States, a
custom has arisen amongst school aged children to pinch anyone who does
not wear green on St. Patrick's Day.