In the USA, cities like Boston, Pittsburgh, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago saw huge increases in their Irish populations. Irish emigrants also headed to the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and more. All said and done, some estimates put the extended Irish diaspora at more than 100 million people (that’s more than 15 times the population of Ireland!)
St Patrick was always a significant figure in Ireland, though his celebrated importance dates back to about the 17th century, when St Patrick’s feast day was officially placed on the Catholic Church’s calendar. Ireland has long been a somewhat conservative country where religion was important. Therefore St Patrick, the man who is credited with bringing Christianity to the island, is worth celebrating!
St Patrick’s Day parades in North America are full of orange and green.
But where in Ireland St Patrick’s Day was mainly a somber and religious affair (the pubs were closed on March 17th until the 1970s), something got a bit lost in translation in North America. Over time, Irish traditions blended with American culture (and consumerism), producing what we now recognise as St Patrick’s Day. To put it into perspective, the first St Patrick’s Day parade wasn’t in Ireland – it was in Boston, USA (in 1737). The longest St Patrick’s Day parade? Not in Ireland – it’s in New York City. The list goes on.
So why is St Patrick’s Day popular? Modern celebrations have been largely influenced by the Irish diaspora – a series of vaguely Irish traditions that have been handed down through the generations of Irish living abroad. Only in the past few decades has Ireland jumped on the St Patty’s bandwagon!