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Irish Traditions for St. Patrick’s Day

by Ward Gahan
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Irish Traditions for St. Patrick’s Day

Irish Traditions for St. Patrick’s Day

March 17th, St. Patrick's Day - it's the day when everybody is Irish! (Or George Stephanopoulous says we all “pretend" to be Irish) People all over the world celebrate St. Patrick's Day. You'll see communities rally together with parades, parties and in some locations, pea planting. Many areas participate in the "greening" of their surroundings, like the Chicago River pictured above. It's all in honor of the Irish patron saint, St. Patrick.

I’ll share some of my memories as a kid in Ireland, but let’s start with a little bit about the guy for whom all of this celebrates - St. Patrick. Patrick (who wasn’t even really named Patrick, but chose the name for himself…) was the son of a deacon in the early Christian church. He wasn’t really a believer himself until he was enslaved by pirates in his mid-teens. During his time in captivity, he converted to Christianity. When Patrick was eventually released, he continued to study the religion. He ultimately had a vision that told him to bring Christianity to the Irish people, who were mainly pagan at the time.

St. Patrick’s preaching wasn’t originally welcomed. He was trying to convey some very heady ideas. The legend says that Patrick began using the Shamrock to teach people about the holy trinity. He was able to use creative storytelling to spread his ideologies and was credited with baptizing thousands and helped to create hundreds of churches. So today we celebrate his death, which was believed to be March 17, 461 AD.

The tradition I remember most as a boy growing up in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, was that March 17th was a day off school. (Come on, I was a boy!) I was excited to be able to spend the day how I wanted. However the one TV station we had available in the 70’s only showed TV programmes in Irish (Gaeilge). We had enough of that in school; we didn’t need more of that at home and especially not ALL DAY LONG. So you might say that my fondness for the cupla focail (“the few words” in Irish) came later in life.

March 17th was also a Holy Day of obligation, the Feast Day, so you had to go to Mass in the morning. (So much for a boy’s day off!) There might be a bit of a parade of the FCA (Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, now called the RDF - Reserve Defense Forces ) down to the church and they’d raise a banner and sing a rousing version of Faith of our Fathers. Before you went out however, you had to have a sprig of Shamrock in your lapel or in my case pinned to your geansai (jumper or sweater). 

See, even Princess Kate can be seen wearing a sprig!

Wearing a shamrock was the sign of the true believer and of the true Patriot. The links between Church and State were much stronger than they are now. 

Although the Irish immigrants brought these St. Patrick’s Day “traditions” to the American colonies and the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737, the idea of parades like what you’d see today in Boston or New York didn’t exist in Ireland when I was a boy. My first time down 5th Ave in the Big Apple, I could not believe that a parade would start at noon and go on until 4:30pm continuously - ours in Clonmel lasted 15 minutes. In fact it was the one time of year I remember the Banna Cluain Meala marching the streets followed by the FCA from the local army barracks. They were the nearest thing we had to a marching high school or college band...and no bloody high stepping leprechaun guy. Our fella would have been doing that to keep warm in the rain!

Now that has changed and all for the better. It’s wonderful to see the Irish pride on display throughout the streets all over the world. St. Patrick’s day has become a big international festival and Irish pride takes over the entire month of March. Those folks in New Orleans have 3 weeks of parades. Boy do they know how to celebrate! There’s also a list from Tourism Ireland that identifies all the famous attractions that will “go green”  this year. Today, it’s so much more than just the dyeing Chicago River. The brave St. Patrick would be proud.

As I learned early on as a boy in Ireland, don’t forget to wear your green in the form of shamrock scarves, a green herringbone Irish cap and perhaps some shamrock jewelry on St. Patrick’s Day and at one of the parades held around March 17th. Check out our selection of products for St. Patrick’s Day. Grab something for yourself and since we ship free, send something to your friends or family while you are at it. Spread some irish-ness! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Let us know how you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

by Ward Gahan

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