7 Surprising Facts About St. Patrick’s Day
While St. Patrick’s Day is now associated with the wearing of green, parades (when they are not canceled) and beer, the celebration is steeped in history that dates back more than 1,500 years. The first known celebration took place on March 17, 1631, marking the anniversary of the death of Saint Patrick in the 5th century. Learn more about the history of vacations and how they have evolved into today’s event.
1. The real Saint Patrick was born in Great Britain
Much of what we know about the life of Saint Patrick is intertwined with folklore and legend. Historians generally believe that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Britain (not Ireland) around the end of the 4th century. At 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and sold as a slave to a Celtic priest in Northern Ireland. After working for six years as a shepherd, he fled to Britain. He finally returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary.
Learn more about St. Patrick’s life here.
2. There were no snakes for St. Patrick to banish from Ireland
Among the legends associated with St. Patrick, he stood at the top of an Irish hill and banished snakes from Ireland, prompting all snakes to slip into the sea. In fact, research suggests that snakes did not never occupied the emerald island in the first place. There are no signs of snakes in the country’s fossil record. And water has surrounded Ireland since the last ice age. Before that, the area was covered with ice and would have been too cold for reptiles.
Learn more about Ireland, snakes and legend here.
3. Leprechauns are probably based on Celtic fairies
The red-haired leprechaun dressed in green is commonly associated with St. Patrick’s Day. The original Irish name for these folklore figures is “lobaircine”, which means “little boy”. Belief in goblins probably stems from Celtic beliefs in fairies – tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic tales, the elves were grumpy souls, responsible for repairing the shoes of other fairies.
4. The clover was considered a sacred plant
The clover, a three-leaf clover, has been associated with Ireland for centuries. Called “seamroy” by the Celts, it was considered a sacred plant symbolizing the arrival of spring. According to legend, Saint Patrick used the plant as a visual guide to explain the Holy Trinity. By the 17th century, the clover had become a symbol of nascent Irish nationalism.
5. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in America
While the Irish have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day since the 1600s, the tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day parade began in America and predates the founding of the United States.
Records show that a St. Patrick’s Day parade took place on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish colony of what is today St. Augustine, Florida. The parade and the celebration of Saint Patrick a year earlier were organized by the Irish vicar of the Spanish colony Ricardo Artur. More than a century later, nostalgic Irish soldiers serving in the English army marched in Boston in 1737 and in New York on March 17. The. In 2020, parades across the country, including New York and Boston, were canceled or postponed for the first time in decades due to the epidemic of the COVID-19 virus.
6. The Irish were once looked down upon in America
While Irish Americans are now proud to showcase their heritage, Irish people have not always been celebrated by their fellow Americans. From 1845, a devastating burn of the potato caused widespread famine throughout Ireland. While around 1 million people have perished, another 2 million have abandoned their land in the largest population movement of the 19th century. Most of the exiles – nearly a quarter of the Irish nation – arrived on the coasts of the United States. Once arrived, Irish refugees were seen as sick, unskilled and a drain on welfare budgets.
7. The salted beef and cabbage was an American innovation
The meal that became a staple of St. Patrick’s Day across the country – salted beef and cabbage – was an American innovation. While ham and cabbage were consumed in Ireland, salted beef offered a cheaper substitute for poor immigrants. Irish Americans living in the slums of lower Manhattan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries bought leftover salted beef from ships returning from the tea trade in China. The Irish would boil the beef three times – the last time with cabbage – to remove some of the brine.