It’s that time of year again when folk around the world will celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.
It used to be celebrated only as a religious holiday but in 1903 it became a public holiday introduced by an Irish Member of Parliament called James O’Mara. He later introduced the law which required that pubs be closed on March 17 because of its religious connections to St.Patrick.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931. The first Saint Patrick’s Festival was held on March 17, 1996 and 1997, it became a three-day event and by 2006 the festival was five days long.
The idea was to promote Ireland and its culture by offering a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world.
The biggest celebrations in Ireland outside of Dublin are in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, where Saint Patrick was buried following his death on March 17, 493. In 2004 the week-long St. Patrick’s Festival had over 2000 participants and 82 floats, bands, and performers, and was watched by over 30,000 people.
Irish-American immigrants also took Saint Patrick’s Day to the United States. The first civic and public celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in the 13 colonies took place in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737.
The New York parade has become the largest Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the world, outside Ireland. In 2006 more than 150,000 marchers participated in it, including bands, firefighters, military and police groups, county associations, emigrant societies, and social and cultural clubs and was watched by close to 2 million spectators lining the streets.
‘Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig’ is the Gaelic way of expressing a wish that you have all the blessings of St Patrick’s Day and the “luck of the Irish” to go with it.
One of the explanations for this expression comes from the legend of the ‘Little People’ of the land, know as leprechauns. Finding or catching a leprechaun, who would then give you gold, was a lucky event that could only take place in Ireland.
Many Irish people will wear a bunch of shamrock on their lapels or caps on this day and girls traditionally wear green in their hair. Green is the theme including the wearing of green clothes and drinking green beer.
Some cities paint the traffic stripe of their parade routes green while others, including Chicago, dye major rivers green and Savannah dyes its downtown city fountains green.
The history of St Patrick is full of unknowns, legend and hearsay. Centuries of religious writings and re-writings which have been used to great effect to make Patrick a ‘brand name’ for the various elements of the Christian persuasion. In the end you believe what you want to believe and perhaps that is what makes it all the more intriguing.
Go raibh tú daibhir i mí-áidh
Agus saibhir i mbeannachtaí
Go mall ag déanamh namhaid, go luath a déanamh carad,
Ach saibhir nó daibhir, go mall nó go luath,
Nach raibh ach áthas agat
Ón lá seo amach.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.