Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17), is the Irish feast day which celebrates Saint Patrick (386-493), the patron saint of Ireland. It is a legal holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the overseas territory of Montserrat and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is celebrated worldwide by the Irish and increasingly by many of non-Irish descent. A major parade takes place in Dublin and in most other Irish towns and villages. The five largest parades of recent years have been held in Dublin, New York City, Manchester, Montreal, and Boston. Parades also take place in other places, including London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Moscow, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Copenhagen and throughout the Americas.
Welcome to episode 52 of HistoryPodcast.
As usual things are a bit crazy here at home and my real day job has been taking up a lot of my time. So my wonderful wife Michelle was kind enough to put together todays script. Thank you Michelle. I hope you all enjoy the music throughout this podcast, I thought it appropriate.
St. Patrick’s Day History
Curious as to why March 17 is the day to wear green, shamrocks abound, and there’s talk of leprechauns and rainbows with pots of gold, then listen to this history podcast about St. Patrick’s Day to learn about the person behind the festive day.
Near the end of the fourth century, St. Patrick was born with the name Maewyn in Wales, Britain to wealthy parents. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460, which is the date celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day. He’s the patron saint of Ireland and one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. Although his memory is widely celebrated, his life is shrouded in mystery. This podcast will unravel the little known facts about St. Patrick and provide more insight as to why he’s such a celebrated saint.
Ironically, St. Patrick considered himself a pagan until the age of 16. His family was not particularly religious. His father was a Christian deacon, but it was believed that he took on the position for tax incentives. At 16, he was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. The raiders transported him to Ireland, where he spent six years in captivity. While captive, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. During his isolation in captivity, he turned to religion for solace. As a result, he became a devout Christian. It’s believed that during his captivity, he first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity.
To make his spiritual dream a reality, Patrick escaped from prison. His source of inspiration for the escape was God. As stated in his writing, God’s voice spoke to him in a dream and told him the time had come to leave Ireland. Patrick fulfilled what he believed as God’s wishes by walking nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast, then into Britain. That is quite an incredible distance to journey on foot. Patrick is reported to have experienced a second revelation, where an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick abided by the angel’s request and began religious training. This course of study lasted a period of more than fifteen years. During that time, he adopted the Christian name, Patrick. Patrick’s religious superiors initially appointed St. Palladius to Ireland in order to convert the native pagans to Christianity. St. Palladius transferred to Scotland two-year’s later. As a result, Patrick was appointed as second bishop to Ireland and granted the opportunity to spread Christianity throughout Ireland. Patrick was sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.
Patrick familiarity with the Irish language and culture proved instrumental in his Christianity lessons. Instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs, Patrick opted to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity. For example, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross. His rationale for incorporating these elements into his teaching had a profound correlation to the native traditions. The Irish were accustomed to honoring their gods with fire, and the veneration of the cross would seem more natural to the Irish, as the symbol tied in familiarity with the sun.
Patrick’s was noticeably successful at winning converts, which upset the Celtic Druids. Despite several arrests, Patrick managed to escape each time. His passion for spreading Christianity motivated him to flee persecution and imprisonment. He established monasteries, schools, and churches, as he traveled throughout Ireland. These establishments helped him in his efforts for the Irish conversion to Christianity. Patrick’s mission in Ireland spanned thirty years, after which time he retired to County Down. He died March 17 in AD 461, the day commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day.
Awareness of Patrick’s life comes mainly from his two works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Epistola, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians. He portrayed himself as a “most humble-minded man, pouring forth continuous praise and thanks to his Maker for having chosen him as the instrument whereby multitudes who had worshipped idols and unclean things had become the people of God.”
The Irish culture is centered on a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it’s not too surprising that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life. As a result of exaggerated storytelling spanning hundreds of years, several stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick are false, such as the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland. In fact, snakes are not native to Ireland. As Patrick had a dual mission both one of ministering to active Christians as well as to introduce the religion, this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.
Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17th, intended meaning for celebration is a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide. Many Irish attend mass on that day. St. Patrick’s Day was originally a Catholic holy day, but has evolved into more of a secular holiday. The day also widely includes associations with everything Irish: anything green and gold, shamrocks and luck. One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock, which stems from a more genuine Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used the shamrock in sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. This inspired the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day. In Ireland, with the exception of restaurants and pubs, practically all businesses close for parties, parades, and festive activities. Ireland’s largest annual party, St. Patrick’s Festival will be in full swing from March 15th – 19th 2006. The St. Patrick’s Day custom came to America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick’s Day was publicly celebrated in this country, in Boston. Both large cities and small towns in America celebrate with parades, “wearing of the green,” music and songs, Irish food and drink, and children’s activities. St. Patrick’s Day popularity could be attributed to the day occurring just a few days before the first day of spring, plus people enjoy an opportunity to celebrate and enjoy parties.