✦ It’s that time of the year to don your best green outfit, head to the pub for a nice cold pint of the black stuff and attempt your best efforts at an Irish accent as St Patrick’s Day once again rolls around!
St Patrick’s Day is one of the most celebrated and popular dates on the calendar all around the world, falling this year on Friday, March 17.
Over the years it has gained in popularity and nowadays has a significant following, celebrated by extensive parades in cities all across the United States, as well as themed events all the way from Dublin to Tokyo, London to Sydney and Egypt to Rio!
However, it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that Ireland’s patron saint, who lived during the fifth century, was not in fact Irish nor was he originally called Patrick. He was actually born as Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain and was thus effectively a Roman citizen, later changing his name to Patricius (or Patrick), which derives from the Latin term for “father figure”.
At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and sent as a slave to present-day Northern Ireland where he became a shepherd. A strong believer in the Christian faith during these challenging times, he eventually escaped or was released (the exact facts are unknown) before becoming a priest and going on to spread the religion throughout Ireland through baptism and confirmation.
However, it took 12 centuries until the Church established a Feast Day in 1631 honouring St Patrick, and it wasn’t until the 18th century that many of the traditional celebrations we witness today came into effect. The first St Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City in 1762 (14 years before the US was an independent country!) and it wasn’t until the Irish Rebellion in 1798 that the colour green was officially associated with the day.
Given how we associate St Patrick’s Day with celebrations, pubs and beer, it will no doubt come as a surprise to learn that, until the late 20th century, there was a law in place that prevented establishments opening on the day, including pubs and bars! This was repealed by the Irish eventually, meaning raucous celebrations could be enjoyed in public houses after all.
These days St Patrick’s Day is a truly global phenomena. As previously alluded to, there are a series of huge parades in many of the USA’s major cities, especially New York, Boston and Chicago, which have collectively embraced millions of Irish immigrants over the years. In the latter, over half a million people gather at the edges of the Chicago River where the water is turned green with a special dye, before embarking on a lengthy parade through the streets of the Windy City. The Big Apple embraces the green theme on an even grander scale with over 2 million revellers joining the parade from Fifth Avenue between 44th Street and 79th Street, while the world-famous Empire State Building is lit green.
Whereas pubs and bars all across Australia honour the day, the biggest celebrations are seen in Sydney Harbour where the famed Opera House is lit green for the occasion and the many historical bars and pubs in the popular Rocks area all stage parties, with bbqs and games for the children.
Munich closes down the usually bustling Leopoldstrasse in the heart of the city to make way for an array of green coloured floats and performers, while the up-market shopping district of Omotesando in central Tokyo hosts a huge parade and the nearby Yoyogi Park hosts an “I Love Ireland” festival, with stalls, live entertainment and, of course, beer!
Representing Latin America is the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, which truly comes alive on March 17 with a huge parade and outdoor festival – not surprising given the city is home to one of the largest Irish populations in the world (which in itself will be a surprise to many!)
Last but not least, and maintaining consistency with the surprises, is the Caribbean island of Montserrat, fondly known as “the other Emerald Isle”. In the 17th century an Irish Catholic settlement was formed, laying down deep cultural roots that are still very much prevalent today. In fact, it is the only other place outside of Ireland itself where the day is designated as an official public holiday, and where a staggering 10-day festival honours the occasion (while also commemorating the country’s first slave rebellion).
Wherever you are and however you celebrate this St Patrick’s Day, may the luck of the Irish be with you and a great time had by all!
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