Another St. Patrick’s Day has come and gone. My son and I went on a mini vacation and so missed all the craziness at home. There is always a huge parade in downtown Cleveland. People start drinking at 9 am, leading invariably to those same people throwing up in alleys before the parade starts. Good times.
I recently did an AncestryDNA test and discovered that I am 46% Irish. I always thought it was closer to 25%, all on my mother’s side, but it turns out my father had quite a bit of Irish as well. So this St. Patrick’s Day found me somewhat more reflective on all things Irish, including St. Patrick himself.
Who was not Irish.
He was born in Britain to wealthy, Roman Christian parents circa 386, and reportedly died in Ireland on March 17 about 460. At the age of 16, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders, who enslaved him in Ireland for six years, which he spent tending sheep. After six years, he heard the voice of God in a dream, telling him to escape, so he did. (I can’t help but wonder why God had him wait so long, if it was this easy, but I digress.) He walked roughly 200 miles to the Irish coast and then somehow got to Britain and reunited with his family. Once he managed this feat, an angel came to him in a dream and told him to go back to Ireland, as a missionary. So he traveled to France and studied to become a priest, then returned to Ireland to join other missionaries. Patrick did not bring Christianity to Ireland–it was already there.
Patrick weaved Irish traditions and stories into his Christian teachings, rather than attempting to eradicate them. The Celtic cross–an Irish symbol of the sun superimposed on a Christian cross–is an example.
St. Patrick’s Day was originally started 1,000 years ago as a religious holiday in Ireland, which included church followed by a family meal of cabbage and Irish bacon (corned beef definitely wasn’t on the menu). Irish pubs were required to be closed on March 17 until the 1970s.
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York in 1762, organized by Irish soldiers serving in the English army. Over the years, St. Patrick’s Day became a way for ever-increasing numbers of Irish immigrants to connect with their heritage. In the mid-19th century, it became a way for Irish immigrants to protest their treatment by American society and to show their strength as a growing political machine.
Today, of course, parades and festivals take place in over 100 U.S. cities–there’s one in Dublin, Ireland now, too, which over a million people attend. There are over 34.7 million people of Irish descent living in the US, more than seven times the population of Ireland, and they are very, very proud of their heritage.
I will admit that I have spent my fair share of St. Patrick’s Days drinking beer–preferably not green–and singing Irish folk tunes at the top of my lungs. This year was much quieter–a pizza and a pint of Irish cider, but I did force my son to listen to the High Kings and the Chieftains for a while.
A belated St. Patrick’s Day to all, whether Irish in truth or in spirit.