Irrespective of your heritage, you’re likely well aware of St. Patrick’s Day. On 17 March each year, millions mark the traditional feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. With all the hubbub and festivities on St. Paddy’s Day, how much do you really know about it? There’s a lot more to St. Patrick’s Day than simply wearing green and knocking back a pint of Guinness. Read on to discover the history of St. Patrick and some interesting St. Patrick’s Day facts.
Facts about St. Patrick’s Day
1. March 17 marks the death of St. Patrick.
As it turns out, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17 because that is the day Saint Patrick himself died in the small village of Saul in 461 AD. A grave at the cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland is marked as his final resting place.
Irish people began observing St. Patrick’s day around the 9th or 10th century, but the date was only officially enshrined in canon law as a feast day (holy day of obligation for Catholics) by the Vatican in 1631.
2. Although St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, he wasn’t Irish and wasn’t born in Ireland.
St. Patrick might be the patron saint of Ireland—but he didn’t always live in Ireland. He was born to a Christian family in Britain in the late fourth century AD.
It seems logical to think St. Patrick was from Ireland. However, the man wasn’t Irish. He was a Roman citizen because Britain was part of the Roman Empire then.
3. St. Patrick’s real name wasn’t Patrick.
St. Patrick was actually born ‘Maewyn Succat.’ He changed his name to Patricius, or Patrick, which derives from the Latin term for “father figure,” when he became a priest.
4. St. Patrick’s mother tongue was Latin, not Gaelic.
This seems quite logical as he was a Roman citizen.
5. No one knows for certain where St. Patrick was born.
It’s a widely accepted fact that St. Patrick was not an Irish native and was born in Britain, either in Scotland, England, or Wales (experts can’t agree).
In “Confessio”, his own spiritual autobiography Saint Patrick himself claims to have been born in a settlement called Bannavem Taburniae. Unfortunately, there’s no place called Bannavem Taburniae in the modern world — and no record of it, either. Efforts to locate this place precisely have so far failed.
6. St. Patrick was kidnapped and enslaved as a teen.
St. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders when he was 16 and spent several years herding sheep in Ireland before finally escaping back to Britain.
It was during this time that St. Patrick found Christianity. Although his father Calpurnius was a deacon in the early Christian church, Patrick hadn’t been much of a believer himself. He believed that his kidnapping and enslavement were punishment for his lack of belief.
While St. Patrick was alone with the sheep, he supposedly received a divine call to escape from captivity, become a priest, and return to convert the Irish.
7. St. Patrick wasn’t responsible for converting the people of Ireland to Christianity.
Though St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, the truth is Christianity had already taken hold in the country. It is speculated that the first people to bring Christianity to Ireland may have been Christian slaves who were brought to Ireland
St. Patrick was also not the first bishop in Ireland. That honor goes to the 5th-century bishop Palladius. Palladius was a Roman Catholic Deacon who was commissioned by Pope Celestine to convert the Irish natives.
8. St. Patrick was never formally declared a saint.
Despite being known as the Patron Saint of Ireland, St. Patrick was never formally canonized. In fact, the process of officially canonizing saints didn’t become common practice in the Church until long after St. Patrick’s death.
During St. Patrick’s lifetime, “saint” was more of a general title that would be assigned to people who lived especially holy lives or performed acts of martyrdom. Thus, St. Patrick’s saintly status is somewhat questionable.
9. Contrary to popular lore, St. Patrick didn’t drive all the snakes from Ireland.
It is important to keep in mind that key historical figures are frequently coated with myths and legends attributed to them over the course of centuries, and St. Patrick is no exception.
St. Patrick is credited for driving the snakes out of Ireland, but as badass as that may sound it’s nothing but a myth.
According to fossil records, Ireland has never been home to snakes as it was too cold to host reptiles during the Ice Age. The country is one of the few snake-free places in the world.
10. Blue was once closely associated with St. Patrick’s Day instead of green.
One of the surprising St. Patrick’s Day facts is that although the world views green as the official color of St. Patrick’s Day, it wasn’t associated with him during his lifetime.
St. Patrick was actually known for wearing a pale shade of blue. However, in the 18th century, an Irish freedom movement linked St. Patrick’s Day with the color green as a symbol of their cause.
11. St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in only one fully sovereign nation.
Though St. Patrick’s Day is arguably celebrated in more countries than any other national festival, it is a public holiday in only one fully sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland.
Otherwise, St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Northern Ireland, the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
12. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place, not in Ireland, but in what is now the United States.
One of the lesser-known St. Patrick’s Day facts is that the first parade held in St. Patrick’s honor actually took place in the USA, not Ireland! It took place in 1601 in St. Augustine in Florida (a Spanish colony at the time) under the direction of the colony’s Irish vicar, Ricardo Artur.
13. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland took place in Waterford in 1903.
Ireland’s first St Patrick’s Day parade was held in Waterford in 1903, and the same year St. Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland.
The first, official St. Patrick’s Day parade to happen in the Irish Free State took place in Dublin in 1931.
14. The largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world takes place in New York City.
New York City’s St.Patrick’s Day Parade was first held in 1762. Over time it has grown into the world’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parade attracting over two million people.
15. ‘Erin go Bragh’ is a popular phrase recited by Irishmen on St. Patrick’s Day.
On St. Patrick’s Day, it’s common to hear shouts Erin go Bragh (Éirinn go Brách in Irish). The Irish phrase literally translates to “Ireland to the end of time.”
The phrase has its roots in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when a group of Irish rebels staged an uprising to protest against British rule.
16. There isn’t any corn in the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage.
Concocted by Irish immigrants in New York City, corned beef and cabbage is the traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal in the United States. However, the ‘corn’ doesn’t refer to corn kernels but to the kernel-sized salt crystals historically used to cure the beef.
17. St. Patrick’s Day used to be a ‘dry’ holiday in Ireland.
Aside from the color green, the activity most associated with St. Patrick’s Day is drinking. Paradoxically, as St. Paddy’s Day generally falls within the Christian Holy season of Lent, a law came into force in Ireland that required the closing of pubs on March 17 until the 1970s as a mark of respect.
18. The city of Chicago dyes its river green on St. Patrick’s Day.
In what is one of the most famous St. Patrick’s Day traditions, the city of Chicago, Illinois, has colored its river (Chicago River) green to mark the holiday since 1962.
The famous tradition started when sanitation workers realized that the green vegetable dye they used to test for leaks in pipes could double as a St. Patrick’s Day decoration.
About 40 pounds (18 kg) of environmentally-friendly orange powder is plunged into the river to achieve the classic emerald green, and it only lasts for a few hours.
19. Shamrocks are not four-leaf clovers but are rather actually three-leaf clovers.
Shamrocks have come to symbolize St. Patrick’s Day because legend has it St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity
The word “shamrock” comes from the Irish word “seamróg,” and means “young clover.” Four-leaf clovers are said to be so rare that only about one in 10,000 clovers have four leaves. So much for the luck of the Irish!
20. 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed worldwide on St. Patrick’s Day.
Not surprising because if St. Patrick’s Day had an official beer, it would have to be the iconic creamy stout.