The Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day gives people of Irish descent a sense of pride in their heritage; a chance to celebrate their national and ethnic identity.  There are no leprechauns, rainbows, or pots of gold anywhere in this equation.  It is also not just an excuse to drink green beer or drink to excess.  In fact, to many people of Irish descent I know, this is offensive.  According to my friend Niamh, here are the rules for St. Patrick’s Day:

“The rules are… It’s St.Patrick’s Day, or Paddy’s Day, but NEVER St.Patty’s. Car Bombs were WMDs and drinks of same name are in extremely bad taste.There will be lots of great musicians around playing great music: go listen to them. Laugh, sing and have fun with friends, real Irish culture is all about the craic. And shun the leprechaun!”

Bundorna ST Paddys

Okay, since we are celebrating all things Irish in preparation for our trip this summer let’s learn about the true meaning of the holiday. oh, and above is a lovely picture of what Bundoran, our summer destination, looks like on St. Patrick’s day.  (also borrowed from my friend Niamh, who borrowed it from her photographer friend)

 What is the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day?

Saint Patrick’s Day,  or the Feast of Saint Patrick,  in Gaelic is called Lá Fhéile Pádraig, or the Day of the Festival of Patrick.  St. Paddy’s day is a cultural and religious holiday celebrated annually on 17 March, the death date of the most commonly-recognised patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461).

The holiday was made an official Christian feast day in the early seventeenth century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (especially the Church of Ireland), the Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, as well as celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Labrador and Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world; especially in Britain, Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.

 Wearing of the green

The color green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. Green was adopted as the color of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750. However, when the Order of St. Patrick—an Anglo-Irish chivalric order—was founded in 1783 it adopted blue as its color. This led to blue being associated with St Patrick. In the 1790s, green became associated with Irish nationalism when it was used by the United Irishmen. This was a republican organization—led mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members—who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule. The phrase “wearing of the green” comes from a song of the same name, which laments United Irishmen supporters being persecuted for wearing green. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the color green and its association with Saint Patrick’s Day grew.


Why it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing or accessories on St Patrick’s Day?

St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities. The triple spiral symbol appears at many ancient megalithic sites in Ireland.

The four-leaf cloverrepresents the solar-worshipping invaders of Ireland, the Celts.  St. Patrick used a three leafed clover to explain the Holy Trinity.  The Celtic traditions had such a stronghold in Ireland, Catholic priests decided to mingle existing Celtic feast days, beliefs and customs with Catholic ones in an attempt to sway the indigenous group’s beliefs more easily and readily. The four-leaf clover is an example of Celtic myth and Christianity intermingling. That fourth leaf represents luck. Superstition had no place in this new religion called Catholicism.

 Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Saint Patrick’s feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. In later times, he became more and more widely known as the patron of Ireland.[20] Saint Patrick’s feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding[21] in the early 1600s. Saint Patrick’s Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. It is also a feast day in the Church of Ireland.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. breisebreiseleighgoleire1969
    Mar 17, 2014 @ 12:13:50

    Thank you for providing a link to my blog post about The Lucky Four Leaf Clover: Celtic Christianity at its best.


  2. Dr. Cynthia Bellacero
    Mar 17, 2015 @ 11:12:10

    Reblogged this on The Random Musings of a Gypsy Archaeologist… and commented:

    For all my friends in Bundoran, We miss you….Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh


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