This St. Patrick’s Day, the pubs are silent, the bagpipes aren’t playing, and the parades have been canceled.
The usually jovial holiday celebrating the patron saint of Ireland and Irish heritage will be celebrated in self-quarantine this year. Around the world, there will be no drunken Irish melodies sung or bagpipes played. This year, that fresh pour of Guinness will come from your fridge instead of the tap at your local bar.
But don’t start humming a sad Irish tune quite yet, because there is still much to celebrate about the history of Irish culture, both in Ireland and here in America.
A Cultural Impact
Irish immigrants and their descendants have had an overwhelming impact on the course of American history. They helped build our cities, defended our nation in wars, and represented us in the halls of Congress and the Oval Office. The Irish are proud people who have overcome centuries of tragedy—usually inflicted by the British—to form the world’s fourth-largest diaspora.
There are actually more Americans of Irish ancestry in the United States than there are Irishmen currently in Ireland (33 million versus 6.3 million respectively.) Many Irish-Americans can trace their ancestors’ arrival in the US back to the Great Famine of 1848, which brought over a million Irishmen to American shores. The Irish were saved by the American dream, and they contributed back to it with hard work and determination.
However, that doesn’t mean they were always treated with dignity in this country.
For years after the main migration, the Irish were discriminated against and businesses wouldn’t hire them. Signs that read “Irish need not apply” were strewn across the front doors of businesses throughout New York in the 1860s. Racism against the Irish was prevalent for many generations. The Irish brought their Catholic faith with them, which angered many protestant Americans and led to decades of “Papist” suspicion. It wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 that much of these fears were put to rest.
The rivalry between Protestants and Catholics has inflicted misery on the Irish for centuries. Protestant Northern Ireland—under the control of the British—and the Catholic Republic of Ireland were engaged in open conflict for decades. The historic conflict is commonly referred to as “The Troubles.”
But through all of it, the culture stayed strong, and it can easily be said that, without Irish contributions, the United States would likely look very different today.
Origins Of The Holiday
Now, what about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day? Well, the day is ultimately a religious holiday to celebrate the spread of Christianity to the Emerald Isle.
History.com reported, “St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of [the saint’s] death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink, and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
St. Patrick, who lived during the Fifth Century, is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but later returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.
In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461 AD), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.”
All told, Saint Patrick’s legacy was one of faith and compassion, and he has come to typify the Irish culture itself. Even non-religious observers of the holiday (and, in the United States, even people who aren’t Irish) are able to partake in the festivities surrounding his memory.
Now you know you a little bit more about St. Patrick’s Day. Hopefully learning this can help bring to celebration home for families around the world, regardless of current quarantine status.
Remember the reason for the celebration when you tip back a nice dark Irish stout during your self-quarantine.
Or as the Irish say: “Sona St. la Patrick.”