St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn’t from Eire. He was born in the late fourth century in Wales or England, both of which were then under Roman control. He was kidnapped, brought to Ireland, sold as a slave, and forced to work as a shepherd for years, becoming increasing religious before escaping to England. Motivated by a dream that the Irish were calling him back, he studied in a monastery in France before he returned to the Old Sod and founded the Christian Church there. He is believed to have died March 17, 460 AD. (Read more history of Ireland’s patron saint.)
The Party Began in America, Not Ireland
The Irish were observing March 17 as a religious holiday by the 9th or 10th century. However, far from being the beer-drinking bash it is today, people took to the churches to seriously venerate the founder of their country’s church.
Things started to get more lively in America with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations taking place in Boston in 1737 and in New York shortly thereafter. At that time, the Irish were victims of prejudice by the predominantly English colonists in North America, and the celebration was a way to share bonds of solidarity, confirm their ethnic identity and shared heritage…and drink beer, which the religious authorities in Ireland had frowned upon. With the growth of Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in the mid-1800s, the "green machine" grew until Irish Americans were well established all over the U.S. The Irish law closing pubs wasn’t overturned until the 1970s, after officials realized the potential to boost springtime tourism.
Today, there are far more people of Irish descent in the United States (34 million) than in Ireland (4.2 million), and our celebrations are so important that many prominent Irish politicians leave Ireland to attend celebrations in the U.S. New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day is the world's oldest civilian parade and the largest parade in the country. Meanwhile, Chicago dyes the Chicago River green for five hours, and cities all across the nation celebrate with parades and pub crawls.
St. Patrick's Day Traditions in America
Many of the fun St. Patrick’s Day traditions that we associate with the Irish were created or heavily influenced by Irish Americans. These include:
Corned beef and cabbage: The traditional Irish holiday dish was either bacon or lamb. However, beef was cheaper in America and cabbage was an affordable springtime vegetable for the early immigrants.
Why Green? Blue was the color of the patron saint’s robes. However, green became the predominant color for the holiday because of Ireland’s nickname, The Emerald Isle.
Rude Little Men: Americans started the tradition that you would get pinched by leprechauns if you didn't wear green on this special Irish day.
St. Patrick's Day has evolved into a celebration of all things Irish, especially beer. Regardless of whether you have ties to Ireland or not, you should get out and socialize with your friends at Rock Harbor Brewing Company. Raise a glass of beer, green or otherwise, and celebrate with the rest of the world!