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A Quick History Of St. Patrick’s Day

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Staff Writer

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. He was born in 387 A.D. to a Roman family living in Britain.  Most of his paternal ancestors were ordained members of the Catholic Church.  When Patrick was a teenager, he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland. While in Ireland, he received a message from God telling him to escape the island and return home to Britain. 

Eventually the adolescent Patrick was able to sneak away from his captors and return to Britain. He entered a monastery in Germany to become a priest. After entering the priesthood, he received another message from God that the people of Ireland, who were mostly pagans, were calling him back. Patrick continued his studies as a priest and was ordained by his mentor St. Germanus. In 433, Patrick was ordained as a bishop and started his divine mission in Ireland with the intent of converting the polytheistic peoples to Christianity. 

The three-leaf shamrock, which is associated with the secular holiday as we know it today, was a tool that St. Patrick used to explain the Christian theology of the trinity to pagans. As far as wearing green as a tradition of St. Patty’s day, Sarah Cody ’11 comments about the truth.

“Technically, if you’re Irish you don’t have to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day,” Cody said.

Patrick’s mission was successful, in that he converted many of the Irish and gained many disciples. He also established an organized network of churches in Ireland. Patrick continued preaching all over the island until his death on March 17, 461 A.D. 

In the 1600’s, the day of his death was made a Catholic holiday; a day of celebration and feasts. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York on March 17, 1762; Irishmen in the English military took to the streets as an example of their heritage and to inspire others with Irish ancestry. 

Then in the mid 1800s an influx of Irish immigrants arrived in America because of the Great Potato Famine, the Irish were popularly viewed as lower-class, unemployable citizens, and the parades were characterized as drunkards filling the streets. Although the immigrants were portrayed negatively by the media, the parades showed the size of the Irish population. Thus in the 19th century the parade evolved into a display of brawn for the Irish as a political adversary.