As we prepare to honor the patron saint of Ireland by donning green and drinking too much, it feels only fitting to pull the curtain back a bit on March 17. So without further ado, here are some things you may or may not know about St. Patrick’s Day.
1. St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, was born in the year 387 at Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton. Which is in Scotland. Making Ireland’s patron saint Scottish. At 16 years old, Irish raiders captured him in the midst of an attack on his family’s estate. The raiders then took him to Ireland and held him captive for six years. After escaping, he went back to England for religious training and was sent back to Ireland many years later as a missionary. St. Patrick was actually born Maewyn Succat, according to legend; he changed his name to Patricius, or Patrick, which derives from the Latin term for “father figure,” when he became a priest.
2. His birth name was actually Maewyn Succat. It wasn’t until he was in the Church that it was changed to Patricius, or Patrick.
3. Green may be the national color of Ireland, but the color most associated with St. Patrick is blue. The Order of St. Patrick was established in 1783 as the senior order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Ireland. The color associated with the honor needed to differentiate it from the Order of the Garter (dark blue) and the Order of the Thistle (green). So they went with a shade of sky blue.
4. According to legend, St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland in the 5th century. But, of course, there weren’t any slithering reptiles to drive off the island. The reference is thought to be metaphorical: St. Patrick — who converted pagans to Christianity — was the man who supposedly drove “evil” non-Christians from the land.
5. St. Patrick used a three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to pagan Irish, forever linking the shamrock with him and the Irish in the popular imagination. He would tie shamrocks to his robes, which is why we wear green today. (The shamrock was also important in Celtic mythology because of its three leaves — a sacred number to the Celts.)
6. The very first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in the U.S. The Irish have been celebrating the feast of St. Patrick since the ninth century, but the first recorded parade anywhere was in Boston in 1737. The parade was not Catholic in nature because the majority of Irish immigrants to the colonies were Protestant. Ireland did not have a parade of its own until 1931, in Dublin. Even today, 18 out of the 20 largest St. Patrick’s Day parades are in the States — New York’s is the largest.