Across the world on 17 March, people will be ‘wearing the green’ and celebrating St Patrick’s Day with parades, music, dancing and all things Irish.
It’s hardly surprising that Ireland puts on a bit of a show for its patron saint. But why is St Patrick’s Day so popular in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, England and elsewhere?
Over the last 400 years, some nine or ten million people have left Ireland – a vast number considering that even at its peak in the 1830s, the total population was only 8.5 million. It is the strong communities of Irish settlers and their descendants who carry on the Irish tradition all over the world.
This year, Dublin’s grand St Patrick’s Day parade includes colourful, exotic pageants, and bands and music from across the world. Aerial shows, street theatre and workshops entertain the whole family as part of the Festival Big Day Out, and during the four days of revelry there is traditional music, song and dance, boat racing, storytelling, and a treasure hunt around the city. Making a special appearance, three Giant Dolls visit the city, singing operatic melodies in the streets.
Many of Dublin’s most beautiful buildings ‘go green’ as darkness falls on each of the four festive nights, while across the rest of the world in a symbol of friendship, iconic buildings will also turn green: the Empire State Building in New York, the Sky Tower in Auckland, the London Eye and Nelson’s Column. Joining in this year for the first time, are the Coliseum in Rome and Sacre Coeur in Paris. Even Cape Town’s Table Mountain will change colour, and in Chicago the river will run green.
The world’s largest parade is in New York with floats, bagpipes and plenty of green beer in the city’s Irish pubs. Other big parades take place in Boston, where nearly a quarter of Massachusetts residents claim Irish ancestry, also Toronto, Tokyo, Sydney, Montreal and London. Buenos Aires has the fifth largest Irish community in the world and celebrates with a giant street party.
St Patrick’s Day celebrations have not only been confined to Earth. On St Patrick’s Day 2011, on the International Space Station, astronaut Cady Coleman celebrated her Irish heritage by playing an Irish tune on a flute borrowed from traditional Irish band, The Chieftains.
Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland
And what of Ireland’s patron saint himself? Saint Patrick was born in Scotland around 385, the son of Romans living in Britain, deacon Calpurnius and his wife Conchessa. Around the age of 14, he was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave where he worked as a shepherd, probably in the countryside of Slemish in County Antrim. He learned the language and absorbed the culture, and whilst in captivity, turned to religion and found comfort in prayer. Some six years later, he escaped and returned to Britain where he trained as a priest. As a bishop he was sent to Ireland and he preached the gospel for 40 years, bringing Christianity to the people.
Legend tells that St Patrick used the three leaves of Ireland’s traditional plant, the shamrock, to explain the Holy Trinity. Another legend claims that he chased all the snakes from Ireland, driving them into the sea. It is quite probable that St Patrick referred to the shamrock in his teaching, but the second story is most unlikely. Whilst it’s true that there are no snakes now, it is almost certainly the case that there never have been snakes in Ireland.
You can enjoy the best of Northern Ireland, from the dramatic Giant’s Causeway to tranquil rivers, from traditional cottages to a snow-clad prehistoric fort in Rose Calendars ‘Images of Northern Ireland’ Calendar.