May your blessings outnumber
The shamrocks that grow,
And may trouble avoid you
Wherever you go.
–An Irish Toast
St Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17th, the traditional religious feast day of St. Patrick and the day he is believed to have died in 460 A.D. The Irish have observed this religious holiday for thousands of years. But, how did we come to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the United States?
WHO WAS ST. PATRICK?
St. Patrick is the beloved patron saint of Ireland. The Irish are famous for spinning exaggerated tales, so despite the infamous stories traditionally attributed to St Patrick, quite little is actually known about his life. We do know that St Patrick was born in Britain and that at the age of 16 was captured by Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. He was then transported to Ireland where he was held captive for six years, living a solitary, lonely life as a shepherd. It was then that he became a devout Christian, embracing his religion for solace. From his writing, we know that a voice, which he believed to be that of God, spoke to him in a dream, urging him to leave Ireland. He did. Walking nearly 200 miles, Patrick escaped to Britain and undertook seriously religious training.
After 15 years of study, Patrick was ordained as a priest and sent to Ireland. His mission was to minister to Christians and to convert the Irish, then pre-dominantly pagans, to Christianity. Because Patrick was familiar with the Irish language and culture from his years of captivity, he chose to incorporate Irish ritual and symbols into his teachings rather than to eradicate Irish beliefs. Thus, was born the Celtic cross. Patrick superimposed the sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the traditional Christian cross so that the result would seem more natural to the Irish.
Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
The history of St Patrick’s Day in America, however, begins with Irish soldiers serving in the British army. Befitting of the Irish, it is a tale of Irish patriotism and evolving political power. That very first parade in New York City not only helped the homesick Irish soldiers connect with their roots through the familiar strains of traditional Irish music—usually featuring bagpipes and drums, but also helped them to connect with one another, finding strength in numbers. Over the years as nearly a million Irish immigrants fled to America in the wake of the Great Potato Famine, St Patrick’s Day parades became a display of solidarity and political strength as these often ridiculed Irish immigrants were frequently victims of prejudice. Soon enough, their numbers were recognized and the Irish soon organized and exerted their political muscle, becoming known as the “green machine”.
Today, St Patrick’s Day celebrations abound. Decidedly less religious, St Patrick’s Day celebrations continue to be a show of Irish strength and patriotism. So, get on your green and get ready to celebrate!
St. Patrick’s Day Facts
There are 34.7 million U.S. residents with Irish ancestry. This number is more than seven times the population of Ireland itself.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY CELEBRATION
· Corned beef and cabbage is a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish. In 2009, roughly 26.1 billion pounds of beef and 2.3 billion pounds of cabbage were produced in the United States.
· Irish soda bread gets its name and distinctive character from the use of baking soda rather than yeast as a leavening agent.
· Lime green chrysanthemums are often requested for St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
· The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in the United States on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.
· More than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States. New York City and Boston are home to the largest celebrations.
· At the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, participants march up 5th Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street. Each year, between 150,000 and 250,000 marchers take part in the parade, which does not allow automobiles or floats.
PLACES TO SPEND ST. PATRICK’S DAY
· There are seven places in the United States named after the shamrock, the floral emblem of Ireland including Mount Gay-Shamrock, WV; Shamrock, TX; Shamrock Lakes, IN; and Shamrock, OK.
· Sixteen U.S. places share the name of Ireland’s capital, Dublin. With 44,541 residents, Dublin, CA, is the largest of the nice, followed by Dublin, OH, with 39,310.
· Other towns with the luck of the Irish include Emerald Isle, North Carolina and Irishtown, Illinois.
FACTS ABOUT IRISH AMERICANS
· There are 34.7 million U.S. residents with Irish ancestry. This number is more than seven times the population of Ireland itself.
· Irish is the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, ranking behind German.
· Across the country, 11 percent of residents lay claim to Irish ancestry. That number more than doubles to 23 percent in the state of Massachusetts.
· Irish is the most common ancestry in 54 U.S. counties, of which 44 are in the Northeast. Middlesex County in Massachusetts tops the list with 348,978 Irish Americans, followed by Norfolk County, MA, which has 203,285.
· Irish ranks among the top five ancestries in every state except Hawaii and New Mexico. It is the leading ancestry group in Delaware, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
· There are approximately 144,588 current U.S. residents who were born in Ireland.