Let’s go back to the source: St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

A St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland. Undated. | Image courtesy Pixabay, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — St. Patrick’s Day in the United States means green beer, loud music, too much drinking and green everything. Have you ever wondered what the most hallowed day in Ireland would be like – in Ireland?

A stained glass window depicts St. Patrick dressed in a green robe with a halo about his head, holding a shamrock in his right hand and a staff in his left. Undated | Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de, St. George News

First, let’s dispel one myth. Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday, to a certain point. A fifth century Christian missionary, Patrick’s father was a deacon and his grandfather was a Christian priest. Patrick spent many years preaching to the people of Ireland and reportedly converted thousands. He died on March 17 and was buried at Downpatrick, just south of Belfast.

Side note: The story about Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland? It’s false. Patrick strove for many years to either drive out or convert the local druids, and the druids became the snakes in the telling of the legend. Ireland never had any snakes.

March 17 in Ireland starts out as a religious holiday, with Christians attending church services. Parades are common, as are carnivals. The first official parade sponsored by a city took place in Dublin in 1931.

Useless St. Patrick’s Day trivia: The shortest parade in the world formerly took place in Dripsey, County Cork. The parade went for 76 feet, traveling between the village’s two pubs. The parade was canceled in 2004 when one of the two pubs closed.

Despite what one might think, the residents are catered to more than the tourist. Irish folk stories are told and songs are sung. One of the more popular stories told involves the Children of Lir, who were turned into swans by a sorceress. Irish pride abounds and the intricacies may be lost on most tourists.

A St Patrick’s Day religious procession in Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is said to be buried. March 17, 2010 | Photo by Ardfem, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, St. George News

Green is everywhere. It’s customary in Ireland to wear green, shamrocks or green accessories on March 17. Green has been associated with Ireland since at least 1640 when the green harp flag was flown by the Irish Catholic Confederation. In the 1790s, green became identified even more closely to Ireland, due to its use by the United Irishmen, a group that launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule.

The speaking of Irish is encouraged during the week of St. Patrick’s Day. It’s called “Irish Language week” and many residents will only speak Irish for the week.

No one in Ireland dyes rivers green or serves green beer. But one thing that won’t be a surprise to anyone visiting on St. Patrick’s Day: The pubs will be packed. Most pubs will feature Irish music and endless pints of Guinness ale, which is too dark to be dyed green. One tradition is called “drowning the shamrock,” where a shamrock is placed at the bottom of a glass of whiskey, beer or cider. The glass is then drunk as a toast to St. Patrick and the drinker must swallow the shamrock or face bad luck for the upcoming year.

Whether you decide to celebrate in Ireland or in America, St. Patrick’s Day can be fun. Don’t overindulge, and if you drink, please don’t drive. Erin go Bragh! (Ireland forever!)

Email: rwayman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

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