This Thursday March 17th is a national public holiday in Ireland, the day we celebrate our national saint, St. Patrick and the day we choose to celebrate our country, our culture and its people throughout the world.
Because he is a figure from the 5th century there are many disputed facts about him and his life but he was a real person and his story is fascinating. The fact that his life story and origins are complicated may in the end be the most Irish thing about him.
Patrick was born in Roman Britain about the year 432 in a town now known as Ravenglass, in Cumbria in the north of England. His family were relatively wealthy and Patrick’s father was a member of the city council. Tradition has it that Patrick was kidnapped in his teens by Irish pirates and kept as a slave for six years. During this time Patrick converted to Christianity. Having escaped Ireland in his 20s Patrick continued his Christian studies in France before hearing the people of Ireland calling to him in a dream.
Patrick returned to Ireland and began his life’s work of spreading the gospel message throughout Ireland. There were others doing similar work both before and after Patrick’s time but his life story and the folklore surrounding it means that Patrick is the one who is remembered to this day. Incredibly two pieces of his writing survive to this day including his “Confessio” (confession) a sort of spiritual last will and testament which also includes a brief autobiography.
Saint Patrick died on March 17th probably in 493 and is buried in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. There are literally hundreds of places in Ireland associated with him and his life story and his place in the cultural as well as spiritual history of Ireland was cemented in the early 17th century when his feast day was recognised in the church calendar. He is associated with the shamrock which is a young three leaved clover which contrary to popular belief in Ireland is not a species unique to this country.
The tradition of celebrating an Irish holiday both nationally and internationally became more common towards the middle of the 18th century and with the advent of mass Irish emigration throughout the world, the 17th March became an important day for emigrants everywhere to celebrate their Irishness. Nowhere is this more spectacularly seen than in America where large scale parades are seen in New York, Boston and Chicago as well as a host of other cities. Here in Ireland not only does every city have a parade but just about about every town and village do something to mark the national holiday. Here in the town of Skibbereen, in south west Ireland where Spearline is based, there is an annual parade with music and Irish dancing and general merriment. This being Ireland we even have our own tradition which everyone is encouraged to take part in called “wetting the shamrock”.*
As a footnote we should also mention that Saint Patrick is also the patron saint of Nigeria although they don’t celebrate a national holiday on March 17th. It is perhaps no coincidence that Lagos the capital of Nigeria is also home to a large Guinness brewery since 1950.
On behalf of everyone here at Spearline, whether you are Irish or not, or just simply wish you were for one day a year, may we wish you a “Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Dhaoibh” (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all).
Oh and one last thing, it’s Saint Patrick’s day or Saint Paddy’s day or simply Paddy’s day. It is NEVER ever under any circumstances St. Patty’s day.
* Wetting the shamrock: the tradition of celebrating the national day with a beverage or two of your choice!