Jacqueline Oud - Culture

Saint Patrick’s Day - origins behind the Irish Holiday

Saint Patrick

He who was to become the Patron and Saint of Ireland had quite an original youth and nothing showed any signs of the supposed future. Born in 385AD, he was not that close to God and at the age of 16 was even captured into slavery. Taken away from his country, he looked for a reason to belief and he thus approached himself to God. After escaping he entered into a Monastery in France (Gaulles) under Saint Germain in Auxerre.
He missed his home land and hoped to be send back there to convert his fellow countryman. Having become a real Christian, he changed his first name from Meawyn into Patrick and finally was send to Ireland. He thus became the first Irish Bishop. [1]

He was very successful in converting the so called "pagan’s" or "Druids". The fact that he was like them originally may have helped him to be more convincing. Nevertheless, he didn’t only make friends but he managed to escape verious times.


Saint Patrick is said to have had two main symbols: the shamrock and the snake. The shamrock was used by Saint Patrick as to explain the Trinity. It showed how God, the Son and the Holy Spirit could all exisist as separete elements in the same entity. It is nowadays the "official" symbol of Saint Patrick himself.
The snake, as being the second symbol used by the Irish Saint, is supposed to be rather a legend than real. Snakes are not really very commun to Ireland and could be a kind of symolism of the pagans that were to be converted. It can also represent the image of the Druids, before their conversion into a "good" religion.
As a representant of the Catholic Church he is also the Irish symbol of Catholicism. Many statues are made of him and during the year many refer to him as for hope and prayer or visit the religious places that evoke his presence.
Though not really a symbol of Saint Patrick, but nevertheless a main issue is the date of March the 17th. A discussion around his death made it not clear what whas the official date. Did Saint Patrick die on March the 8th or the 9th? The question remained and it was decided to add the 8 and 9, thus becoming 17, and, as a result, the 17th of March was ever since his day of death and date of commemoration. Whether it has really happened like this or not, it is perfect for a Saint.

Boston - USA

Saint Patrick was - and is - most of all the Saint and Patron of Ireland and represents the religious holiday for the Irish. However, the Americains wouldn’t be the Americains if they hadn’t given Saint Patrick it’s international reputation. In fact, it seems that the Irish living in the United States outnumber the Irish living in Ireland. (Have you seen the movie: gangs of New York?)
When the Irish came to the USA for a better future in the land of dreams, they regrouped and as mostly happens with nations abroad, they reinforced some of their cultural heritage. The same happened with Saint Patrick’s Day and since 1737 it has become officially installed in their local habits, starting with Boston. Nowadays, the preparations for Saint Patrick’s day can even start one week in upfront. It is celebrated with cultural discoveries for those who are not Irish or not familiar with the Irish customs. Literature, culture and history are one of the elements that will be exposed.
Since 1737, things have changed and Saint Patrick’s Day is known in many countries. It has become a Saint’s Day that has been exported throughout the world. As often happens unfortunately with exporting name days or Saint days, few really seem to understand the roots of the day and its meaning. It has above all - to those who are not Irish - become a commercial "outlet".

[1There might be some ambiguity about him being the 1st Irish Bishop since St Palladius was sent to Ireland before him. Saint Patrick is being considered officially the 1st Bishop, probably since he obtained his known success.

[15 March 2004]

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