Sunday, 16 March 2014

Historical Tidbits- St. Patrick's Day

        Chances are that wherever you may be reading this from you know that tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. In Western Culture I know from experience this means a lot of green everywhere, people wearing "Kiss me I'm Irish shirts" and inebriated individuals crowding the pubs for a pint of stout or green ale.

         I am extremely proud of having roots in Ireland, Scotland and Wales but I don't really like what St. Patrick's Day has become, the use of stereotypical Irish drinking habits as an excuse to get drunk.

A Brief History of St. Patrick

        St. Patrick, the saint who St. Patrick's Day is named after, was born in Roman Britain around the end of the fourth century. He lived in Roman Britain with his parents until approximately the age of sixteen at which time Irish Raiders kidnapped him and brought him back to Ireland as a slave. After six years of slavery, St. Patrick managed to escape his Irish slavers and returned to Roman Britain before travelling to France to study Christian theology. Within just a few years, he was ordained a Christian Bishop.

         Following his ordination, St. Patrick returned to Ireland to spread the religion which he felt gave him the fortitude to endure his slavery. When St. Patrick arrived in Ireland, the Druids held great power as royal advisors, and even he is said to have acknowledged the power of their magic. However St. Patrick bided his time and was eventually able to win over the King of Tara's son Conall, and influence the conversion of pagans at the highest levels. St. Patrick's success of converting pagans to Christianity was so great, that many other Christians were inspired by St. Patrick to become missionaries in Scotland and Ireland.

       To describe it wryly, upon his death on March 17, 493, St. Patrick's legacy was one of painting all magic (that even he admitted was powerful) as evil, in order to prove the Celtic pagan faiths and spiritual paths such as Druidry, heretical.

The Origins of Modern St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

St. Patrick's Day, New York 1939
Photo Credit:

       In the eighteenth century the first St. Patrick's Day parade was lead by Irish soldiers, not in Ireland but in New York. When the Potato Famine hit Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century and thousands of Irish immigrants flooded into America, the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade became an opportunity for Irish-Americans to demonstrate pride in their heritage. Shortly thereafter, political hopefuls began to recognize the power of the "green-machine" and attending the world's oldest civilian parade became a "must". Then. in 1995 the Irish government capitalized on all the attention Ireland received from St. Patrick's Day celebrations and focused a tourism campaign around March 17th.

      So, even though St. Patrick's day was originally solely celebrated to commemorate St. Patrick as the man who brought Christianity to Ireland, little of this purpose remains except in the Christian Church. Today St. Patrick's day is recognized primarily as a celebration of Irish heritage and as a chance to become completely inebriated.

My Final Thoughts

       Overall, I respect both the religious and cultural aspects of the tradition of St. Patrick's Day, though it must be said that I don't support St. Patrick's forceful conversion of pagans and condemnation of their beliefs as heretical. However, I resent that the capitalistic culture of our society has endorsed St. Patrick's Day as an opportunity to get roaring drunk.


Patrick the Saint by: Mary Cagney retrieved from Christian History Vol. 17.4 p. 10
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