St Patrick’s Day
St Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate all things Irish. As a major festival, it was big first in America before it was in Ireland — just as Cinco de Mayo is coming to be a bigger deal now in America than it is in Mexico.
Though held in honour of a saint, St Patrick’s Day has become a secular festival for the most part. Many see it as a spring festival, with all the green colour associated with it (the irony is no doubt not lost in places such as Montréal and Alaska, where snow drifts will still be around for the next two months.)
Parades are held, and there is a great deal of “Irish” food cooked up and served. Americans often cook up corned beef (though the Irish don’t.) The Irish will do cabbage with hame or bacon (bacon, as in a side of bacon, not slices.) Beverages include Guinness, green beer, Irish Coffee, stout, Bailey’s, Murphys, Smithwicks, Harp, etc.
Though thought of as Irish, St Patrick was actually Welsh — or more accurately, perhaps, Roman. He was born in Wales c. 385 AD. His father was a Roman army officer named Calpurnius, making St Patrick a Roman citizen, as Britain was still Roman then.
He was given the local name of Maewyn Succat / Magonus Sucatus, but took on the Roman name of Patricius. In c. 410 AD, at the age of 16, he was captured by Irish marauders and sold into slavery in Ireland. In c. 416 AD, he escaped after 6 years, at the age of approximately 22, and went to France in that same year to study in a monastery in Auxerre. He stayed there for 12 years.
Saint Patrick’s Day Menu, Shamrock Hotel, Houston, Texas. 1950s.
© Hospitality Industry Archives, Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel & Restaurant Management, University of Houston
In c. 428 AD, around the age of 34, Patricius was appointed as a bishop to Ireland. He worked there for about 30 years converting the Irish heathen (some Irish priests today might no doubt mutter that he left some work undone.) Around 458 AD, he retired to County Down, and was buried there when he died there on 17 March 461 AD. Since then, though he is a documented historical figure, much fanciful folklore about his life has evolved.
St Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in Boston in 1737.
In New York, it was first celebrated at the Crown and Thistle Tavern there in 1756, and the first parade held there on 17 March 1762 — both while America was still British.
The first St Patrick’s Day parade held in Canada was in Montreal in 1824.
Up until the 1970s, pubs were closed in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day. In 1995, the Irish government finally started promoting the day for its tourism benefits.
Up until the Irish potato famine, most Irish in North America were from the Protestant middle class. The refugees that came over to North America after that were from the poorer Catholic class.
“Erin Go Bragh” means “Ireland Forever.”