Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, when the people of Ireland and others around the globe with Irish roots will celebrate their heritage and affinity for the Emerald Isle.
In sporting terms, St Patrick’s Day 2018 could have extra spice for the Irish. Last weekend Ireland clinched the crown in this year’s rugby union Six Nations Championship with a round to spare. Tomorrow, in the final round of matches, they face England at Twickenham, where a win for Ireland would also earn them an elusive “Grand Slam”. That’s the name given to the rare feat when one team in the Six Nations Championship manages to beat all the others during that year’s competition.
The pressure will be on for Ireland’s squad to give it their all on St Patrick’s Day and secure what will be only the nation’s third Grand Slam, the last one being in 2009. If they can pull it off, you can expect the St Patrick’s Day celebrations to be off the scale!
St Patrick is the foremost patron saint of Ireland and his feast day is celebrated every year on March 17th, not just in Ireland but in places across the world where the Irish have travelled and settled. And it’s not just the Catholic Church which marks St Patrick’s Day, but also the Anglicans (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church.
Indeed, the celebrations extend beyond the religious community and into everyday life. St Patrick’s day is a public holiday in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, all of which have significant Irish communities.
Even where there isn’t a public holiday, major celebrations are held around the world, one of the biggest being the famous St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of people across the USA and Canada have Irish ancestry and St Patrick’s Day is seen as a celebration of Irish and Irish-American culture. Celebrations also take place in South America, Japan, Russia, Switzerland, across the UK… in fact anywhere in the world where the Irish can be found!
As well as religious observance, the day sees parades of all sizes, music festivals and sport events. Wearing a sprig of shamrock or green clothing and accessories – known as “the wearing of the green” – is a traditional way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Some people take it further by dressing up as leprechauns and the like, although this brings criticism from some quarters for fostering Irish stereotypes.
In Chicago, another American city with a big Irish community, it has become a tradition to temporarily turn the Chicago River bright green by adding a harmless vegetable dye to the water. Now more than 50 years old, this colourful celebration of St Patrick’s Day is sponsored by the local plumbers’ union. In 2009, the President’s wife, Michelle Obama, a native of Chicago, requested that the water in the White House fountains also be dyed green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.
Drinking also plays a big part in St Patrick’s Day celebrations, many of which are centered on Irish pubs and bars. Ireland’s biggest brewer, Guinness, sponsors numerous events, with more glasses of the traditional dark dry stout drunk on St Patrick’s day than any other day of the year.
Irish whiskey distiller Jameson also actively promotes St Patrick’s Day, as do various other Irish drinks businesses. In short, the Irish – wherever they are in the world – take St Patrick’s Day seriously and love to celebrate it in fine style, and thanks to traditional Irish hospitality, you don’t have to be Irish to join in the fun and games.
As for St Patrick himself, he was a Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland in the 5th century. Although historical facts are sketchy at best, it is believed he was born in Roman Britain around 385AD to a wealthy family, but kidnapped by Irish raiders at the age of 16 and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. He spent six years there working as a shepherd and during that time found his faith in God, who told him to flee to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home.
When that happened, he resolved to devote his life to God and become a priest, later returning to Ireland to convert the Pagan Irish to Christianity. Legend has it that he also drove the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, Ireland never had any snakes and it is more likely that the fable was an allegory for driving out the Pagan druids.
St Patrick died in 461AD around the age of 76 and was buried on March 17th in the County Down settlement now known as Downpatrick, meaning “Patrick’s stronghold”. Its cathedral is now a place of pilgrimage for Catholics around the world keen to visit the last resting place of Ireland’s patron saint.
Whatever way you choose to celebrate St Patrick’s Day 2018, we hope it’s one to remember.