They say you never appreciate what you have until it’s taken away. For years I deplored the impending Saint Patrick’s day parade. I despaired having to stand in line along the cold street watching overzealous children with their painted smiles, dressed from head to toe in the worst shade of green and orange ensemble. The discomfort I felt when they should know better grown-ups followed behind with an even worse attire. As someone who was born and reared on a farm St Patrick’s parade was a day celebrated by those who lived in the town and cities. My family, we celebrated the Feast of Saint Patrick, doing chores around the farm, going to mass, followed by watching parades from around the world on TV.

 Last year the St Patrick day parade was the first of many events to be a cancelled when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Ireland. I was delighted that I didn’t have to make up an excuse for my teens why we couldn’t attend this yearly celebration. But after a year of confinement and country-wide restrictions, I would give anything to stand in the street in a shower of rain surrounded by hordes of people waving the flag of Ireland. When the government announced that Saint Patrick’s day 2021 was cancelled for the second time. My heart sank, but it got me thinking take away the parade, 17 March is not about Patrick but we the Irish people. We use his name and the day to celebrate what it means to be Irish. On St Patrick’s day we’ll proudly commemorate the people and the pride of being Irish. Covid-19 has been key in cancelling St. Patrick’s Day worldwide, it does not mean that we cannot celebrate and have fun. The popularity of online events has facilitated the gathering of people wherever they are at least for this year.

Who was St Patrick?

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have brought Christianity to Ireland.  The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for many centuries. It is thought that St Patrick died on 17 March in the 5th century.

 Patrick was born in Wales, not in Ireland-A –great deal of what we know about him comes from the Declaration, which was written by Patrick himself. At the age of sixteen it is believed that he was abducted and taken prisoner by Irish looters who attacked his family property. They took him to Ireland where he was held captive for six years. There is a dispute as to the location of that captivity. It is thought that he was taken to Mount Slemish in Antrim, it is highly probable that he was detained near Killala in Co Mayo. According to the Declaration, it was while working as a Shepard that he “found God”. According to his writings –a voice that he believed to be God – spoke to him in a dream – God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would await to bring him home. After he fled, he had another revelation – an angel told him to return to Ireland to convert the heathen Irish to Christianity. He returned to Ireland, converting the Irish while driving out the snakes (A metaphor for paganism).

Symbols related to St. Patrick’s day

Saint Patrick is often credited with not only bringing Christianity to Ireland, but using a small three leafed plant known as the shamrock to do it. The Celtic druids placed great importance on the shamrock because its three heart-shaped leaves represented the triad. The Celts believed that everything necessary came in three’s. It is believed that the three leaf plants were used as a symbol to represent the holy trinity. With their regard for three, it was natural for Saint Patrick to use this plant to convert the Irish people. Today Irish people consider the shamrock a good-luck symbol and believe it brings good fortune.

Another symbol associated with St Patricks day is the Leprechaun. The original Irish name for the Leprechaun is “lobaircin” meaning ‘small bodied fellow”. They were first written about in old Irish fables. They were small pin-sized men who worked as shoemakers and hid gold at the end of the rainbow. When I was young we were told that they were very hard to catch, because they were very small- If you were lucky to catch one, they’d grant you three wishes in exchange for setting them free. Legend has it they could be found at the end of the rainbow, I remember endless times me and my sibling chasing after rainbows looking for the little green men. Today it is common to see people dressed up in some sort of leprechaun’s attire on St. Patrick day, it’s all a bit of fun.

Did you know that the color of St Patrick was originally associated with the color blue and not green? The earliest depictions of St Patrick show him clothed in blue garments. In 1783 George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland, created a new order of chivalry for Ireland and called it “Order of Patrick”. The 1798 Irish Rebellion, the shamrock was worn and became a symbol after that the holiday became associated with green – the colour of Irish Independences. As children we always wore the green shamrock to mark St Patrick’s day as it was considered lucky and it symbolized our Irish heritage.

Saint Patrick’s Day parades

Did you know that St. Patricks day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival in the world? From America, Canada, China, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia people gather to embrace what it means to be Irish. For a day people all over the world delight in the luck to be Irish.

For a number of decades, it was believed that the first St. Patrick parade occurred in New York City but new evidence has refuted this. The first recorded parade celebrated  St. Patricks day was held at what is today St. Augustine, Florida, 1601. This discovery was made   in 2007 by historian Dr J Michael Francis at the University of South Florida.

Interestingly enough, the way we celebrate the St. Patricks day in Ireland was greatly influenced by the Irish diaspora in America? For centuries mass emigration and religious reformation, the tradition of St. Patricks Day was instrumental in maintaining the connection between our diaspora and Ireland.

 In Ireland, St Patrick remained a religious holiday until 1903, when it was proclaimed as the national holiday of Ireland. Only in the early1990’s did the Irish government start campaigning for the use of St. Patrick’s Day for promoting Irelands culture and heritage. The Irish government undertook to set up a St. Patrick’s Day festival with the intent to return its ownership to Ireland and its people.

It is not possible to travel and come together in person this year, but we can still make it a St. Patrick’s Day to remember. The Irish Government has launched the virtual Saint Patrick Day program. Irelands National Day will be celebrated worldwide as part of a series of on-line events organized by Irelands embassies and consulates.

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