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The Editor Speaks: Why is St Patrick the most popular of Saints?

Colin WilsonwebIf you ask someone to name a Saint and his day of celebration, if anyone can answer correctly that is, persons will probably say St. Patrick (or St Paddy) and name correctly March 17th. If that person you ask happens to be Irish the probability changes to 100%. Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland and the whole world knows it.

St Patrick is popular and unfortunately it is not from what he did to become a saint.

Sadly, it is the greater emphasis on celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of “Irishness” rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance.

Saint Patrick’s feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries.

In 1903, Saint Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland.

This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O’Mara. O’Mara later introduced the law that required that pubs and bars be closed on 17th  March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s.

Can you imagine a St Patrick’s day without alcohol – in Ireland?!!!!

In the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use Saint Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The government set up a group called St Patrick’s Festival, with the aims.

Traditional St Patrick’s Day badges from the early 20th century, photographed at the Museum of Country Life in County Mayo

To offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebration in the world

To create energy and excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity

To provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations

To project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal

They certainly succeeded.

So what did Patrick actually do for Ireland?

The myth is he introduced Christianity to Ireland and banished all the snakes from that country.

He actually went to Ireland as a missionary and there were already Christians living there when he arrived. His mission therefore was to minister to those Christians and to begin to convert the rest.

He actually was very good at this. Having spent six years as a prisoner in Ireland after having been captured by robbers when he was 16, he spoke the language and knew the culture. He, therefore, chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.

Originally, the colour associated with Saint Patrick was blue. Over the years the colour green and its association with Saint Patrick’s Day grew. Green ribbons and shamrocks were worn in celebration of St Patrick’s Day as early as the 17th century. Saint Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the ubiquitous wearing and display of shamrocks and shamrock-inspired designs has become a feature of the day. In the 1798 rebellion, to make a political statement, Irish soldiers wore full green uniforms on 17th March in hopes of catching public attention. The phrase “the wearing of the green”, meaning to wear a shamrock on one’s clothing, derives from a song of the same name.

Here on Grand Cayman Paddy’s Day (even ‘Saint’ has gone) is widely celebrated with the bars and restaurants commercially cashing in and there are also sports activities including the pub run that becomes a crawl towards the end.

Even the dastardly Irish ‘enemy’ – the English – celebrate it. Even far more than their own St George’s Day. How many English know when that day is?

And one last thing the Irish should know but most don’t.

Patrick was born in ENGLAND to English parents who were wealthy. That was why he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland. The ransom was never paid and Patrick managed to escape and return home.

During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)

My source for the history of St Patrick is Wikipedia and the History Channel.



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