St Patrick was probably a British Roman called Maewyn Succat born around 387 in what is now Cumbria in northern England. There are other theories that he was Welsh, Scottish or from Somerset but Cumbria is the most likely candidate according to scholars.
Patrick was kidnapped when he was 16-years-old and brought to Ireland to work as a slave until he escaped six years later. It was during his period of enslavement that he found his vocation to spread the word of God.
Patrick is only one of Ireland’s patron saints, there are two others, St Columba and St Brigid. Brigid at least partially has her roots in pre-Christian Ireland and the goddess Brigid from Celtic times. Columba was the central figure in bringing Christianity to Scotland and founded the famous abbey on the remote island of Iona.
There were two St Patrick’s, there is evidence that it was Palladius, Ireland’s first Christian Bishop and not Patrick who was responsible for setting the pagan Irish on the path of righteousness. Many scholars of the period believe that the historical figures of Palladius and Patrick have over time become merged into one character and that Palladius may have been active in Ireland years before the arrival of Patrick.
The snakes were metaphorical, though St Patrick was said to have banished the snakes from Ireland the fossil record shows that there were never any snakes on the island. The snakes that St Patrick banished were technically ‘serpents’ and many experts in theology believe that Patrick was actually referring to the Pagan beliefs of the native Irish and it was these that he banished on his Christianising mission.
It was traditional to wear a paper or ribbon cross on St Patrick’s Day instead of Shamrock, often multi-coloured. The wearing of the St Patrick’s Day Cross was popular in Ireland until the practise died out in the early 20th century. The crosses were Celtic in origin and had a rosette in the middle.
St Patrick’s Day parades are an American invention, the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737 and New York followed in 1762. The parades were a way to demonstrate immigrant pride but did not arrive in Ireland until the 20th century. St Patrick’s Day in Ireland was previously a sombre day of religious observance.
British soldiers held the first New York St Patrick’s Day parade in 1762, the parade was organised by Irish soldiers who were serving in the British Army at the time in New York.
The world’s biggest parade is held in New York where more than 150,000 marchers take part; the smallest takes place in Enterprise, Alabama where one person of Irish descent carries an Irish flag for a two block distance!
St Patrick’s Day became a public holiday in Ireland in 1903, due to excessive drinking pubs were ordered to be shut in 1927, alcohol sales on the day were banned in the South, but not in Northern Ireland. The measure was not repealed until 1961. The only place to get a drink on the day for many years was the Royal Dublin Dog Show.
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