While you’re out pinching the greenless and drinking dyed beer on March 17th, here are a few fun facts about the holiday that you may have never heard.
St. Patrick Wasn’t Irish
According to his own autobiography, The Confessio, and confirmed by historical researchers, St. Patrick was born into a family of slave-owning British aristocrats in the late 4th century. He first visited Ireland as a kidnapped teenage slave, and returned later as an adult after converting to Christianity.
There Were No Snakes
According to Rachel Moss, author of The Staff, the Snake and the Shamrock: St Patrick in Art, the references to St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland began with British sources long after his lifetime. Environmentalists agree that the climate and geography of Ireland meant that it was never home to snakes. The “snakes” St. Patrick drove out are believed to be the pre-Christian Pagans he worked diligently to convert.
St. Patrick’s Day is an American Holiday
According to The History Channel, St. Patrick’s day in Ireland was a relatively quiet religious holiday until the 20th century. Irish bars were closed on March 17th until the 1970s. In the 18th century, Irish immigrants to America put on the first St Patrick’s Day parade in New York City to celebrate their heritage. The growing political influence of the Irish in 20th century America turned the day into a national celebration.
We Should be Wearing Blue
Christina Mahony, of the Catholic University’s Center for Irish Studies in Washington, D.C. says that St. Patrick’s original color was blue, as seen on historical Irish flags, and the uniform of the British Order of St. Patrick. At the time of St. Patrick, green was the color of the faeries, and brought bad luck to wearers (as anyone with a green beer hangover can attest).
Shamrocks are a Sham
According to Horticulturalist Jennifer Schultz Nelson of the University of Illinois Extension Office, St. Patrick’s “shamrock” is really from an Irish word meaning “little clover,” and could refer to any one of four different clover plants. Today, florists sell “shamrocks” that are actually wood sorrel. In an interview with Peter Morrison of the Associated Press, Irish shamrock growers reported using several species of imported young clover seeds to produce their crop. Far from being unique to Ireland, “shamrocks” grow on every continent as common field and garden weeds.