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March 2015

Who was Saint Patrick?

Fun and historical facts you never knew

“Kiss me, I’m Irish,” says the ubiquitous shirt. Saint Patrick’s Day wasn’t always a holiday for green things, consuming massive quantities of beer, and leprechauns. In fact, the original celebration for the patron saint of Ireland was originally a dry holiday spanning the years from 1903 to 1970. The traditional religious day called for no alcoholic consumption at all and the closure of all pubs. Additionally, prior to the 17th century, the colour that was most associated to Saint Patrick was blue and not green, blue being the colour used to depict Ireland on vestments.

So who was this Saint Patrick? How did his celebration evolve into what it is today? Let’s take a look at the life and legacy of the man.

Born around 385 A.D., Saint Patrick was originally named Maewyn Succat. It wasn’t until after he became a priest that he changed his name to Patricius. Another notable fact was that he wasn’t born in Ireland, but rather in Roman-occupied Britain. His parents were Roman citizens, and it wasn’t until he was 16 that he was forcibly removed and taken to Ireland.

He probably didn’t know it then, the teenager that he was, that he would become an icon for the land that abducted him. It’s safe to say he had other things on his mind as he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and thrown into slavery up north. For 10 years he tended sheep, slowly finding his spirituality, until one day, at age 26, when he fled Ireland for England and found sanctuary in Gaul. He would remain there for the next 12 years.

It was in this new refuge that Maewyn Succat made the transition to Patricius. He studied for priesthood and eventually became a bishop. Like many famous figures of myth and in true Campbellian fashion, this real-life purveyor of the hero cycle took his newly acquired teachings back to the land he fled to bestow his new knowledge upon the people. He remained in Ireland for 30 years with his evangelical mission to convert the country to Christianity.

Saint Patrick is celebrated each year on March 17, the day of his death and, like all saints, the date in which he is supposed to have risen to Heaven. The shamrock, native of Ireland, is the icon used to depict the Holy Trinity. In the 1790s during a rebellion against British rule, Saint Patrick's associated colour went from blue to green, the latter the colour of Irish nationalism (as well as the hue of the Emerald Isle).

Modern celebrations of Saint Patrick's Day include parades, the first of which occurred in New York City in 1762. Today, Saint Patrick's Day parades can be found in most major cities in the United States, as well as cities around the world settled during the Irish diaspora. The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade held in Ireland didn’t occur until 1931.

The original closure of pubs on Saint Patrick’s Day was lifted in 1970 when the day became a national holiday in the United Kingdom. The festive imbibement of alcohol stemmed from the day’s lifting of Lenten restrictions, allowing for free consumption of food and drink.

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Picture: © dariovuksanovic, Fotolia