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St. Patrick's Day

March 13, 2012 - Jodelle Greiner
I’ve always had a thing for St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s the myth of the Irish or the musical accent (called a “lilt”), the stories of leprechauns and other magical creatures, or other legends, but it’s always been one of my favorite holidays, even though I’m not at all Irish.

A friend of mine in Texas refused to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because there was no holiday to honor her ethnic background, so she didn’t see why she should celebrate someone else’s. I thought that was a bit silly, but it got me thinking about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day and how it came to be celebrated in America.

According to what I could find out on the Internet, St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Ireland for thousands of years. It, of course, honors St. Patrick, a Catholic priest and Ireland’s patron saint. On the Emerald Isle, St. Paddy’s Day is more a religious celebration. It became an official public holiday in 1903, according to

“This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O'Mara. O'Mara later introduced the law that required that pubs and bars be closed on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s,” according to

Nowadays, the event seems to degenerate into a beer-drinking contest, but that’s not the way it started, according to Kate Kelly of the Huffington Post.

“St. Patrick's Day as a cultural holiday is an American invention — the first St. Patrick's Day parade took place in the United States on March 17, 1762. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through — where else? New York City,” she blogged on March 17, 2011, on

“The NYC parade became the ‘granddaddy’ of what it is today in 1848 when several New York Irish Aid societies decided to unite their smaller parades to become one. Today the parade is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States,” Kelly wrote.

Public opinion of the Irish and St. Patrick’s Day changed not long after the unification of parades.

“In the mid-19th century, the Irish who lived in America were Protestant and most were middle class and respected. After the Irish Potato Famine (starting in 1845), close to a million Irish people, many of them poor and uneducated Catholics, emigrated to the United States. It was at this time that the disdain for the Irish began, and signs like ‘No Irish Need Apply’ began to proliferate,” Kelly wrote.

(Of course, businesses wouldn’t be able to get away with discrimination like that nowadays. There’d be lawsuits aplenty.)

The color green is now so closely related to St. Patrick’s Day you can’t think of one without the other, but it wasn’t always so.

“Originally, the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick's day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick's Day as early as the 17th century. Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs have become a ubiquitous feature of the day,” according to

Incidentally, the song, “The Wearing of the Green” immortalizes the Irish Rebellion of 1798, according to

“Wearing a shamrock in the ‘caubeen’ (hat) was a sign of rebellion [citation needed] and green was the colour of the Society of the United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary organisation. During the period, displaying revolutionary insignia was made punishable by hanging,” according to

I remember hearing “The Wearing of the Green” sung when I was a child, but it wasn’t until I just looked up the lyrics on that I realized I’d only heard the first verse.

The author of the original song was never known, but others like Dion Boucicault re-wrote or added lyrics. “Boucicault (1820-1890), who was, despite his French name, an Irishman born in Dublin... later migrated to America and lived in New York, where he published the song with some changes and additions he had made,” noted

One of those changes was the third verse:

“But if at last our color should

Be torn from Ireland's heart,

Her sons with shame and sorrow

From the dear old sod will part.

I've heard a whisper of a country

That lies beyond the sea,

Where rich and poor stand equal

In the light of freedom's day.

“Oh, Erin! Must we leave you,

Driven by the tyrant's hand?

Must we ask a mother's welcome

From a strange but happy land?

Where the cruel cross of England's thralldom

Never shall be seen

And where in peace we'll live and die

A-wearing of the green.”


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