St Patrick's Day 2015: Seven things you didn't know about the saint, the parades, and Guinness

Spoiler alert: St Patrick was not, in fact, Irish

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Thursday 12 March 2015 15:50
Spectators smile as the watch the annual St. Patrick's Day parade
Spectators smile as the watch the annual St. Patrick's Day parade

Celebrated each year on 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, now a global celebration, is just around the corner. It has come to be known as the day that people adorn themselves with green clothing and hats, paint shamrocks on their faces and drink Guinness, while the Chicago River is dyed a traditional green.

But how much do we really know about St Patrick, who revellers owe their festivities to, and the ‘Irish’ traditions so widely celebrated each year?

St Patrick was not Irish

That’s right, the Emerald Isle’s patron saint was not actually from Ireland. He was born either in England, Scotland or Wales, but not Ireland. Despite this, it is not possible to call St Patrick British either, as the British Isles was under Roman occupation at the time of his birth, thought to be around 390 AD.

It is unknown as to whether St Patrick’s parents were Celtic or Roman – some accounts claim he was from Roman aristocracy – but he is believed to have been captured at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped, but later returned to Ireland to convert the Celtic Pagans to Christianity.

It’s unlikely St Patrick rid Ireland of its snakes…

…mainly because there were no snakes in Ireland in the first place.

St Patrick is supposed to have delivered a dramatic sermon while stood on a hilltop, causing all the snakes on the island to be driven into the sea. But snakes are not thought to have naturally existed in Ireland – the story is instead thought to have been created to symbolise St Patrick’s driving out of Pagan practices from the country.

Green was not his colour

Despite the green hats, green clothes, green face paint and green pints, St Patrick did not wear green himself. His vestments were blue, though a green shamrock or ribbon is understood to have been worn on St Patrick’s day since the 1680s.

A child wearing a green hat with a shamrock takes part in a parade celebrating St Patrick's Day, in Bucharest, Romania

The shamrock is still a significant symbol for St Patrick, however, as he used it to explain the Holy Trinity to his converts, with one leaf each symbolising the father, the son and the holy spirit.

The first St Patrick’s Day parade was not held in Ireland

The first St Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737, the result of Irish immigrants celebrating their home country, culture and pride in their heritage, an event which has now been transformed into annual parades in New York, Boston and Dublin.

Ireland is not the biggest consumer of Guinness

The Emerald Isle is not the biggest consumer of Guinness, and neither is America; it’s Nigeria. Of the total worldwide consumption of Guinness, 40 per cent of it is in Africa, where three of the five Guinness-owned breweries are stationed.

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