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St Patrick’s Day – All You Need to Know

Posted on Mar 15, 2016 by Mary Lawless

You’ve heard of St Patrick’s Day before, surely. You’ve probably worn green, attended a parade, and drank of pint of Guinness. But why? What’s the day really all about?

Visiting Ireland for St Patrick’s Day is a unique experience, but visiting the Emerald Isle any other day of the year will afford you rolling green hills, cheerful pubs, rugged coastlines, steep cliffs, meandering trails and delicious food. One great way to get the most out of Ireland is by visiting on foot.

Hiking through Ireland gives you a new perspective on the country, its landscapes, and the traditions, stories and folklore entwined with the land.

Hiking in Ireland for St Patrick's Day

Now, why do you think that we call Ireland the Emerald Isle?

St Patrick’s Day/ Paddy’s Day / Patty’s Day

You may have heard it called all three of the above. Which is right? Well, that depends on where you are. Let’s break it down:

  • St Patrick’s Day is the official title
  • Paddy’s Day is what the locals call it
  • Patty’s Day is what it is often called in the US

So what’s it all about?

Every year on March 17th, us Irish celebrate the patron saint of Ireland all around the world, a man called St Patrick. And because we’re a friendly bunch, anyone who wishes to join in is more than welcome! What started as a religious celebration in the 17th century has evolved to celebrate the history and culture of Ireland in general.

About St Patrick

St-Patrick

St Patrick’s statue at Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain

So who was St Patrick? St Patrick came to Ireland at the age of sixteen as a slave. He spent six years here working as a Shepard and during this time he “found god”. God told Patrick to flee Ireland and go home to Wales. When Patrick got back to Wales he became a priest. It was after this he returned to Ireland again, to convert the pagan Irish.

March 17th is significant as he died on this date – today, pay homage to his memorial tomb at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland. More information about St Patrick can be found here.

There are places all over Ireland associated with St Patrick. In County Galway: Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain is a much-beloved pilgrimage route (especially on Reek Sunday, the final Sunday of July, which sees a mass pilgrimage to the top) and Mam Ean, or the Pass of the Birds, where there is a shrine dedicated to the saint. And in County Mayo, check out the beautiful Downpatrick Head and sea stack, once a popular spot for pilgrims.

Check out our hiking trip, Hike the Mountains of Connemara & Mayo to follow in the steps of St Patrick yourself!

More About Traditions & Stories in Ireland

Traditions

The Shamrock

There are several different stories about why we wear shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day.

Irish folklore says St Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. The wearing of shamrocks goes back as far back at the 17th century. At the time, the Irish Catholic religion was forced underground due to British rule. Strict laws prevented Catholics from attending school.

The Catholics formed ‘hedge schools’ in secret to continue their education – which took place in actual bushes! The teachers used shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity to pupils. To show their defiance of British rule, the Irish Catholics started wearing shamrocks.

Another version of the story involves the Boer War and Queen Victoria. The war wasn’t as easy as Queen Victoria had anticipated. The military struggled to overcome their enemies and causalities mounted.

Irish volunteers made up many of the British regiments. To keep Irish support strong in the military, Queen Victoria formed a new unit called the Irish Guards, who were allowed them to wear a sprig of shamrock on St Patrick’s Day.

Why Wear Green

GoGReen

For those of you who aren’t aware, Ireland is known as The Emerald Isle, largely because of how green the countryside is – which is what makes it such a perfect spot for hiking.

Blue was the original colour associated with St Patrick. During the 1790’s, the colour green became entwined with Irish nationalism. So as a rebellion to British rule, the Irish began wearing green, picking up steam throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Not only do people wear green today, but buildings and bodies of water in various cities around the world ‘Go Green’ for St Patrick’s Day. In 2015, 150 of the world’s most famous landmarks went green. Some recent famous sites include:

  • Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado hill in Rio de Janeiro
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Niagara Falls
  • The fountain at the White House
  • Sydney Opera House.

So, are you going green?

The Parade

Parade

Every year on St Patrick’s Day, there are parades all over the world. Believe it or not, the first ever St Patrick’s Day parade was not held in Ireland. In fact, it was in New York in 1762. The first parade wasn’t held in Ireland until 1903! In 1762, it was Irish soldiers in the British Army who held the first parade. Many Irish immigrated to America in the 19th century and the celebration became widespread.

Five Fun Facts & Myths about St Patrick’s Day

Guinness

  1. On average, 13 million pints of Guinness are sold on St Patrick’s Day – which is more than double the amount sold on an average day. More than 33 million people are expected to be celebrating St Patrick on March 17th!
  2. Up until 1970, the pubs in Ireland were closed on St Patrick’s Day, as it was strictly a religious holiday. Hard to believe today!
  3. New York City’s St Patrick’s Day parade is the largest in the world. Hot Springs, Arkansas have the shortest.
  4. The story that St Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland? Not true, as there never were any snakes in Ireland (as reptiles go, we still have certain types of lizards in Ireland!). Driving out the snakes is said to be symbolic and St Patrick drove “the old, evil pagan ways” out of Ireland converting them to Catholicism.
  5. The stereotype that wearing green makes you invisible to leprechauns and stops them from pinching you? Also not true, the leprechauns will still see you even if you wear green!

Inspired to visit to Ireland, the home of St Patrick’s Day? Check out some hiking adventures in Ireland below!

About the author

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Mary Lawless

Mary grew up on the west coast of Ireland and after spending some time travelling around the world found herself studying for a masters in Tourism at Strathclyde University. Each season she hears herself saying ‘This is my favourite season’.

Read more articles by Mary


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