The story of Ireland’s foremost saint is one shrouded in myth and legend.
Despite his misty history, St. Patrick has remained a religious and cultural icon from the presumed date of his death in 461 A.D. until this day. Every March 17th, the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland, along with most of the rest of the world, embrace St. Patrick’s Day festivities, an honor unique to the saint and his eponymous celebration.
Although the earliest St. Patrick’s Day parade was reported in New York City in 1762, religious festivals and feast days have been commemorated for centuries. An official holiday in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have spread to the United Kingdom, South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and, of course, the United States.
Some critics have come down hard on the celebration for various reasons: heavy drinking, Irish stereotypes (stemming from the cartoonish leprechaun), exclusionary tactics, and commercialization being among them; however, the holiday’s popularity can’t be denied.
Here’s a look at some of the myths, legends, and truisms about St. Patrick’s Day:
- Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in Roman Britain in the Fourth Century.
- No one knows what the saint looked like although he is usually portrayed as an older, tall, man with a flowing white beard, holding a staff, and attired in a priestly green cassock.
- The color originally associated with St. Patrick was blue but shifted to green near the end of the 1700s when the color signified the rising tide of Irish nationalism.
- According to legend, the saint supposedly drove all “snakes” from Ireland, but Ireland never had such reptiles. Apparently, the myth refers to the saint’s work to convert pagan druids to Christianity.
- According to tradition, the saint died on March 17th and was buried in the then village of Downpatrick in Northern Ireland.
- March 17th became an official feast day in the Seventeenth Century and was observed by Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran churches.
- The shamrock became a symbol of Ireland, according to legend, after St. Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain the Holy Trinity to pagans.
- The day became a public holiday in Ireland in 1903. The first Irish St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Waterford that year.
- The day is celebrated with parades in Russia, the first taking place in 1992. Since then, yearly parades and festivals had been held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities.
- In 2013, Astronaut Chris Hadfield took photographs of Ireland from the International Space Station, and of himself, attired in green. He also sang “Danny Boy” in space.
Another bit of trivia. It’s estimated that more than 15 million pints of Guinness will be served around the world on the holiday—a very nice number for the brewery. The holiday attracts millions of visitors to Ireland in addition to the millions attending festivities in the United States and elsewhere.
Traditional corned beef and cabbage is often prepared for the holiday. Irish outfits and music figure prominently in the celebration, as well as drinking green beer or placing a shamrock in a cocktail or brew—a tradition known as “drowning the shamrock.” Celebrants are urged to swallow the shamrock or throw it over their shoulder for good luck when the drink is drained.
From a religious festival commemorating the arrival of Christianity in Ireland to a world-wide celebration, St. Patrick’s Day and the indomitable Irish spirit show no signs of dimming.
From the acclaimed author of The Magdalen Girls and The Taster comes a powerful, unforgettable novel of strength and resilience, set against the backdrop of the Irish famine.
Ireland, 1845. To Briana Walsh, no place on earth is more beautiful than Carrowteige, County Mayo, with its sloping fields and rocky cliffs perched above the wild Atlantic. The small farms that surround the centuries-old Lear House are managed by her father, agent to the wealthy, reckless Sir Thomas Blakely. Tenant farmers sell the oats and rye they grow to pay rent to Sir Thomas, surviving on the potatoes that flourish in the remaining scraps of land. But when the potato crop falls prey to a devastating blight, families Briana has known all her life are left with no food, no resources, and no mercy from the English landowner, who seems indifferent to everything except profit.
Rory Caulfield, the hard-working young farmer Briana hopes to marry, shares the locals’ despair—and their anger. There’s talk of violent reprisals against the callous gentry and their agents. Briana’s studious older sister, Lucinda, dreams of a future far beyond Mayo. But even as hunger and disease settle over the country, killing and displacing millions, Briana knows she must find a way to guide her family through one of Ireland’s darkest hours—toward hope, love, and a new beginning.
Praise for V.S. Alexander’s The Taster
“This haunting and engrossing novel will appeal to fans of Anthony Doerr and Kristin Hannah.” —Booklist
“The ‘taster’s’ story adds to a body of nuanced World War II fiction such as Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key. Book clubs and historical fiction fans will love discussing this and will eagerly await more from Alexander.” —Library Journal