Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but most people know very little about the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick lived 16 centuries ago; that's why it's difficult to separate historical fact from myth.
Here are the Top 9 Things You Didn't Know About St. Patrick's Day:
- St. Patrick's first trip to Ireland was as a captive. When he was 16, Irish raiders snatched him from the home of his wealthy parents and brought him to Ireland, where he lived for six years before making his escape. He returned to Ireland many years later as a missionary.
- St. Patrick did not drive the snakes out of Ireland; in fact, there weren't any there. Some historians believe that the snakes (symbols of evil) actually refer to the pagan influence that grew weaker as St. Patrick spread Christianity through Ireland.
- March 17 is considered to be the date of St. Patrick’s death. The source for the date is the Annals of Ulster, which says that he died in 493, making him more than 100 years old. Modern historians believe that he actually died in 460 or 461.
- The shamrock, a three-leaf clover, was the symbol St. Patrick used to explain the idea of the Holy Trinity when he was teaching Irish pagans about Christianity.
- According legend, St. Patrick created the Celtic cross by combining the cross and the pagan image of the sun, in an attempt to ease the pre-Christian Irish into adopting his religion.
- The first St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City was held in 1762. Irish soldiers serving in the English military united and marched to share their culture.
- Irish soda bread does not contain raisins! It doesn't have butter or eggs, either. In fact, you won't find anything called "Irish soda bread" for sale in Ireland, because it's not considered much of a delicacy. Consisting simply of flour, sour milk, salt and baking soda, real Irish soda bread is nothing like the cake-like treat we eat here. In fact, it becomes as hard as rock about an hour after baking.
- The city of Chicago dyes the Chicago River green for the holiday. In 1962, the city dumped 100 pounds of dye into the river, and it was green for a week. Now it only uses 40 pounds; enough to keep the Chicago River showing off its Irish pride for just a few hours.
- The Irish of Butte, Montana have the best celebration on this side of the Atlantic, according to the Butte Web site. Members of the Irish diasporas predominantly populate the town of 40,000; each year 30,000 people come to watch the St. Patrick's Day parade. The town's Ancient Order of Hibernians leads the parade, and revelers can touch Irish soil at nearby pubs.
For much more about St. Patrick's Day and why and how and where to celebrate it, visit findingDulcinea's Web Guide to St. Patrick's Day.
And if you've gotten this far and decided that this is the year you are finally visiting Ireland, then read our outstanding Web Guide to Ireland Travel, compiled by the many Hibernophiles on our staff.
Thank you for reading,