Seven things you didn’t know about Ireland’s patron saint

St Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Ireland every year on March 17th for more than 1000 years.

Over the years, the religious holiday commemorating the death of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, has transformed into a day celebrating Irish culture with parades, music, special foods, dancing and lots of greenery – the colour , which is commonly associated with the Irish flag Saints.

Many symbols and legends associated with Ireland, such as leprechauns and shamrocks, come from Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to then-pagan Ireland, used Celtic symbols such as leprechauns, believed to be pushy fairies, to link the country to Christianity. According to legend, he chose shamrocks (three-leaf clovers) as the symbol of the church and used their three leaves to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to his followers.

Today, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more than 200 countries around the world. It is a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat – both of which have residents of Irish descent.

In the US, the Chicago River is dyed green annually on St. Patrick’s Day with 40 pounds of dye (up from the original 100 to minimize environmental damage) and the river remains green for a few hours—less than the original one-week duration.

St Patrick’s Day is also celebrated by Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Argentina, particularly by the Irish diaspora.

But who was Saint Patrick and why is he so famous?

Here are 7 facts about St. Patrick that no one knows:

1. Saint Patrick was not Irish

Kilbennan St.Benins Church Window – St.Patrick – public domain

St. Patrick was born in Great Britain – not Ireland – in the late 4th century.

At the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Irish raiders who sold him as a slave to herd sheep. He escaped, returned to Britain and took refuge in a monastery. Years later he became a priest and traveled around Europe, studying Christianity for 16 years.

Eventually he returned to Ireland to convert the then pagan country to Christianity.

2. Saint Patrick’s color was blue – NOT green

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Badge of the Order of Saint Patrick – public domain

While we now associate St Patrick – and all things Irish – with the color green, the saint was originally depicted wearing blue robes. In fact, this particular shade of blue (now known as azure) was originally called “St. Patrick is blue”.

Green became popular in the 18th century as dissatisfaction with English rule grew and the Irish independence movement began using the shamrock (associated with St Patrick) as a symbol of unity and resistance. The color green became a symbol of sympathy for Irish independence.

Nevertheless, azure – or rather St. Patrick’s Blue – remains the official coat of arms color of Ireland to this day.

3. His real name wasn’t Patrick

St. Patrick’s original name was Maewyn Succat and he was born to Christian parents in Roman Britain.

His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest. But St. Patrick (by his own admission) was not religious as a child. After becoming a priest, he was renamed Patricus, which he renamed Patrick upon his return to Ireland.

4. Saint Patrick drove the serpents out of Ireland

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Depictions of St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland – public domain

According to popular legend, St. Patrick stood on a hilltop, Croagh Patrick (now a major pilgrimage site in Ireland), and banished all serpents from Ireland with a wooden staff. More than 100,000 people climb the holy mountain every year.

However, scientists say the island nation has never been home to snakes.

However, the “banishment of the serpents” could apply on a metaphorical level in the eradication of paganism from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity.

5. St. Patrick’s Day was originally a religious holiday, not a day of celebration


Today, St. Patrick’s Day is often used as an excuse to celebrate and drink Guinness -AP

In 1903 Irish law declared St Patrick’s Day a day of religious observance.

Up until the 1970s pubs were closed on 17 March under Irish law.

In 1995 the Irish Government launched a national campaign to use St Patrick’s Day to drive tourism into the country and showcase Irish culture to the world.

Today it is celebrated as a day of drinking, feasting and parading, with many dressing up as leprechauns.

6. St. Patrick’s Day parades started in America – not Ireland


St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin, Ireland -AP

Although St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Ireland for over a millennium, the famous parades that have now become the heartbeat of the holiday celebrations originally began in 18th-century America by Irish immigrants.

The first definitive St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737, but the modern parades we see today have their roots in a 1762 parade celebration in New York.

For disadvantaged Irish immigrants in America who were forced to flee Ireland due to famine and were unable to find work in America upon arrival, St. Patrick’s Day became a source of pride and celebration, a way to reconnect with their Irish roots connect.

7. Nobody knows exactly where St. Patrick is buried

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Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity – known as Down Cathedral – Below Cathedral

Although several sites identify as the burial place of St. Patrick, no one knows exactly where the saint is buried.

Commonly accepted sites include Down Cathedral in the town of Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, which is also the burial place for Ireland’s other saints, Brigid and Columba, as well as Saul. However, some state that St. Patrick may be buried at Glastonbury Abbey in England.

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