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  • Heather McDorman

Shamrocks and Shenanigans! Unraveling the Myths and Truths of St. Patrick's Day

Statue of St. Patrick holding a staff and shamrock

Ah, St. Patrick's Day – the day when the world dons shades of emerald, raises pints of Guinness, and dances to the lilting tunes of Irish jigs. But surrounding the merriment and green-tinted festivities lies a tapestry of myths and facts that often get tangled amidst the shamrocks.  


As a very Irish lass and as a soon-to-be tourist of the Emerald Isle, this was a fun post to take on. In June I will travel with some cousins and friends to experience the land of St. Patrick and to learn more about him and the culture of many of my ancestors. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches – as does my ancestral pilgrimage – what better time to learn about the saint himself? 

Let’s start by separating truth from blarney associated with the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. 


Myth 1: St. Patrick Was Irish 

Contrary to popular belief, the age-old tale of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn't born on the Emerald Isle. Born in the late fourth century, he hailed from Roman Britain and was actually kidnapped by Irish raiders at the tender age of 16.  

After some misadventures and a stint as a shepherd, he eventually found his way back to Britain. Instead of harboring resentment, Patrick felt a calling to return to Ireland as a missionary. Armed with a deep faith and unwavering determination, he embarked on a mission to spread Christianity throughout the land.  


Statue of St. Patrick

Despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles, Patrick succeeded in converting much of Ireland to Christianity, establishing churches, monasteries, and schools in his wake. His efforts not only transformed the religious landscape of Ireland but also laid the groundwork for its future as a Christian nation.  


So, while St. Patrick may have left his mark on Ireland, he wasn't exactly a native son. 


Myth 2: St. Patrick Drove All the Snakes Out of Ireland 

Now, here's a tall tale that's as slippery as a snake itself. Legend has it that St. Patrick banished all the serpents from Ireland with a wave of his staff. But the truth is, Ireland never had any snakes to begin with – at least not since the last Ice Age. The chilly waters surrounding the island kept those slithery critters at bay long before St. Patrick ever set foot on its shores.  


While he may have worked wonders, snake-charming wasn't one of them. In fact, many consider the snakes to be an allegory for ridding Ireland of heathen practices. 


Myth 3: St. Patrick's Day Is All About Green Beer and Leprechauns 

A man and a woman are taking a selfie while celebrating St. Patrick's Day  with a fake red beard, green top hat, and green beer

Ah, the quintessential image of St. Patrick's Day – a sea of green-clad revelers with pints of dyed beer in hand chasing after elusive leprechauns. Sure, the green beer and leprechauns add a touch of whimsy to the festivities, but let's not lose sight of the man behind the myth. Amongst the revelry, it’s appropriate to take a moment to honor the life and legacy of St. Patrick himself.  


Now it’s time to affirm a few facts about the day! 


Fact 1: St. Patrick's Day Was Originally a Religious Holiday 

Believe it or not, St. Patrick's Day wasn't always about parades and pub crawls. In fact, it started out as a solemn religious observance, commemorating the death of St. Patrick on March 17, sometime in the fifth century.  


It wasn't until centuries later that the holiday evolved into the lively celebration we know today, thanks in part to Irish immigrants in the United States who brought their traditions across the pond. Some traditionalists feel that the holiday has become over commercialized, but who is to say when it shines a positive light on St. Patrick, Ireland, and the huge immigrant influence that helped shape our country? 


Fact 2: The Shamrock Has Symbolic Significance 

A bunch of shamrocks

The shamrock may seem like just another green decoration or icon, but it holds a deeper meaning in Irish culture. Legend has it that St. Patrick used the three-leafed clover to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to the pagan Celts of Ireland.  


Fact 3: St. Patrick's Day Celebrations Take Place Around the Globe

While Ireland may be the epicenter of St. Patrick's Day celebrations where it is a public holiday, the festivities have spread far and wide, transcending borders and cultures. From New York to Sydney, Tokyo to Buenos Aires, people of all backgrounds come together to revel in the spirit of Irish culture and camaraderie.  

St. Patrick's Day parade featuring the flag of Ireland

Whether you're sipping green beer in Boston or dancing a jig in Dublin, remember that St. Patrick's Day is a global celebration of unity and good craic (a good time). 

Bang On! 

As we bid farewell to our brief journey through the often-told myths and the truth-be-told facts of St. Patrick's Day, let's raise a glass to the man, the myth, and the legend himself. The day serves as a celebration of St. Patrick’s legacy and the enduring impact of his accomplishments on the people of Ireland and beyond.  

Chalkboard with Happy St. Patrick's Day written on it surrounded by shamrocks, coins and green beads

You may be Irish by birth or Irish at heart, so may the spirit of St. Patrick's Day fill your heart with joy, your cup with cheer, and your world with a touch of the luck o' the Irish. Sláinte! 


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