Saint Patrick: The Patron Saint of Ireland

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The feast of St. Patrick has been celebrated since the seventh century on the 17th March, commemorating the life of St Patrick who died on that day in 461 AD. Initially he disappeared from public memory but by the seventh century his missionary work in Ireland was recognized by the Christian church and he was accorded a special religious feast day. Today his life is celebrated in many countries around the world although it is in recognition of Irish culture with parades, dancing, traditional food and of course the colour green.

Stain Glass Window of St PatrickMaewyn Succat was not Irish by birth. He was born in Great Britain to an aristocratic, Christian family during the time of the Roman occupation. He was kidnapped as a young boy and forced to work in captivity in Ireland as a shepherd for a number of years until he eventually managed to escape and return home. From there he went to France to study to become a priest, after which he had a dream where God asked him to return to Ireland to spread Christianity and convert the Celtic pagans. He taught the word of God for the rest of his life despite enduring many hardships and making many personal sacrifices and was eventually recognised as a saint after his death.

There are many images of St. Patrick holding a green three leaved shamrock which he may have used to demonstrate to his congregations the holy trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that together make up God according to the Christian faith. In the early twentieth century the shamrock became associated with good luck and was worn on the lapel to identify the Irish, but the Celtic harp is the true national emblem of Ireland. The tradition of drowning or wetting the shamrock arose when a shamrock was placed in a glass and covered with beer and was either swallowed or retrieved after drinking and thrown over the shoulder for good luck. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother had bowls of fresh shamrocks flown in from Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day which she presented to the Irish Guards to wear on their uniforms, a tradition that continues to this day.

Vintage St Patrick's Greeting Card

Thirty five million Americans claim Irish ancestry and mark St. Patrick’s day with world famous parades that began as early as the eighteenth century, the first being in Boston in 1737 followed by New York city in 1762. The numbers of people celebrating vastly increased following the mass emigration from Ireland after the great potato famine of the early nineteenth century. The early parades were very traditional and honoured the saint, but also confirmed ethnic identity to create bonds of solidarity amongst the Irish who were now living far from home. The tradition of the parades did not spread to Ireland itself until the twentieth century when in 1903 the day was proclaimed a public holiday. The day is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other national festival, and is marked by a public holiday also in Northern Ireland, Newfoundland, Labrador and Montserrat.

Today the parade in New York is watched by three million spectators with two hundred thousand participants in the parade itself, and two Irish Wolf Hounds traditionally leading from the front. Large parades are held in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia as well as many other cities in the USA and around the world with Montreal holding the largest and longest running in Canada. Montreal is the only city to have a shamrock on its flag and has held a parade for every consecutive year since 1824, although the very first march was held in 1759 by the Irish garrison stationed there. Celebrations are held in Manitoba, Toronto, Quebec City and Vancouver and in March 2009 the city of Calgary marked the day by illuminating the top of the Calgary Tower with green lights.

Countries around the world with large Irish immigrant populations recognise the day, Argentina has the fifth largest Irish population outside Ireland and the emerald isle of the Caribbean, Montserrat, is also home to many Irish descendants. Celebrations on the day are held in Switzerland, Russia, Asia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and even the international space station! In 1962 the city of Chicago turned the river green for the day, a tradition that has endured, and in 2011 the fountains at the White House displayed “the green”.

Vintage Sterling Silver Vesta Cast inlayed with Connemara marble

The carnival atmosphere of the modern parades has led to the consumption of large quantities of Guinness beer around the world, 5.5million pints on a normal day and up to 13 million on St. Patrick’s Day! In addition Irish food is served consisting of corned brisket of beef with cabbage, potatoes and carrots, although in Ireland the meal is served with bacon rather than beef. From the mid 1990’s the Saint Patrick's day festival has been used in Ireland to promote Ireland and all things Irish and to encourage people from around the world to visit the beautiful emerald isle and share its folklore and traditions

Irish jewellery is a strong collecting field and La Vogue Vintage has enjoyed some unusual pieces over the years, but more about that in a future blog.

Enjoy La Fheile Padraig.