Saturday, March 18, 2006

The myth of Saint Patrick's Day...

Even if you're not familiar with Irisih culture, you probably know at least a couple of things - beer and Saint Patrick's day, the former being closely associated with the latter. Saint Patrick's Day was yesterday,. Interestingly, even though the cult is associated with beer in most of the world, until the 1970s, Irish laws actually mandated that pubs be closed on March 17.
But it looks like economics have changed all that - in the mid-1990s the Irish government began a campaign to use Saint Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland and its culture. (Wikipedia). So is it another of those myths turned commercial?
Let's remember that Saint Patrick (Paddy) is indeed regarded as the patron saint of Ireland and has been so for hundreds of years. Legend has it that he rid the land of snakes, (there are no snakes in Ireland) and that he compared the Trinity to the shamrock (badge of Ireland). Yet as David Plotz reminds us, Saint Patrick probably did none of that and was not not even Irish (well, of course not, he was a missionary from Britain!).
Not only that but while the Irish have indeed been celebrating Saint Patrick's day for years, they used to do so in a quiet more religious sort of way until it became a boozy spectacle in the US. That drew attention and popularity.
It took the United States to turn St. Patrick's Day into a boozy spectacle. Irish immigrants first celebrated it in Boston in 1737 and first paraded in New York in 1762. By the late 19th century, the St. Patrick's Day parade had become a way for Irish-Americans to flaunt their numerical and political might. It retains this role today.

Saint Patrick's Day celebration in Chicago.


At 16:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(well, of course not, he was a missionary from Britain!)...actually, he was English and was a 'missionary' for the Pope, St Celestine.


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