What is all this about St. Patrick and his day? Whatever we know about the historic Saint Patrick comes from the “Declaration” which was, in essence, an autobiography written by Saint Patrick himself. Convenient, no?
Born into a wealthy Roman-British family, at age sixteen the Declaration says that he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave, spending six years as a shepherd. There, while herding his flocks he found God. God told him to go to the coast where there was a boat waiting for him to take him home. I guess it must have been true because when he got home he became a priest.
As a priest he returned to Ireland with a mission to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. According to his own story he converted thousands. If you are going to write your own story you might as well make it good. He is also said to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland, which and any Irishman will be happy to confirm. “Do you see any snakes?” Of course there never were a lot of snakes to begin with. Like so many myths it was probably a metaphor for driving the pagans from Ireland or converting them to Christianity.
Tradition holds that he died on March 17th and so Saint Patrick’s Day is, in essences, a celebration of his death.
It was said that he used the Shamrock’s three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, which could very well have been true, although in pagan Ireland the number three was already significant and many Irish believed in triple deities.
The color green wasn’t actually associated with Ireland until the 1640’s, and green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn since at least the late 1600’s. However, when the Order of Saint Patrick was founded in 1783 Blue was adopted as it’s color. Then in the 1790’s green was associated with Irish Nationalism and used as a uniting tool; so it was a strong symbol, which was perfect for Saint Patrick.
It wasn’t until 1903 that Saint Patrick’s Day became an official holiday in Ireland and not long after that a law was passed that bars had to be closed because the drinking was getting out of hand. The provision wasn’t repealed until the 1970’s.
What about those pesky Leprechauns? As far as I can tell there is absolutely no historical association between the two, other then the fact that they are mythical Irish creatures. In fact the whole connection could have been concocted here in the United States.
So hoist your green beer, and remember Saint Patrick, and while you’re at it wear a little blue too.