The History of St. Patrick’s Day

The History of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick depicted in a stained glass window at St. Benin’s Church, Ireland

Who was St. Patrick?  The man called Patrick was not even of Irish descent.  He was born in Roman Britain, and his father Calpornius was a Christian Deacon and his grandfather Potitus, a priest.  At the age of 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland for a period of six years where he was a slave and worked as a herdsman.  He eventually escaped at the age of 22, but after being ordained a bishop, felt the calling to return to Ireland as a Christian Missionary.

From records and writings, it is believed that Patrick lived from 461 to 493 in the 5th century, but by the 7th century he was well established as the “Patron Saint of Ireland.” On the date of his birth, March 17th, St. Patrick Day celebrations coincided with the Christian season of Lenten throughout the following centuries. The prohibition of meat was lifted for the day of St. Patrick’s Day and people were known to dance, drink and feast on Irish bacon and cabbage. The Irish people attended church in the morning and celebrated in the afternoon and evening.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in the United States on March 17, 1762 in New York City.  It was organized by Irish soldiers in the English Army.  Irish Patriotism in America was a strong part of the immigration process.  Many societies sprung up through Irish Aid groups called Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and Hibernian Society.  Their St. Patrick’s Day events featured bagpipes and drums.

In 1848, the societies finally merged together for one official St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.  It is officially listed as the oldest civilian parade and largest in the US history.  150,000 Irish Americans marched and over three million people lined up along the 1.5 mile route to watch.  Today, other cities have parades too like Boston, Chicago (who dyes the Chicago River green), Philadelphia and Savannah.  Most parades attract between 10,000 and 20,000 marchers.

Until the middle of the 19th century, most Irish immigrants were members of the Protestant middle class.  The great potato famine of 1845 in Ireland caused a huge migration of more Irish citizens to America.  Most of these people were poor, uneducated and Catholic.  The American Protestant majority rebelled, treated them badly and made their lives hard.

The Chicago River is annually dyed green on St. Patricks Day

It wasn’t until politics played a role that Irish-Americans united.  The power of the Irish or “Green Machine” as swing voters gave all Irish-Americans a reason to get along together.  In 1948, Harry S. Truman did a lot to strengthen the Irish bonds when he attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. Until the 1970s pubs in Ireland were closed in observance of St. Patrick’s Day, but now, in modern times, tourism and the willingness to showcase the Irish Culture, has ended that rule.  One million Irish people hold a festival in Dublin with parades, concerts, theater events and fireworks.