Happy Saint Patty’s Day! “Slay-ntee! That means health!”
I still cringe at the flashback of a lady bedecked in green with a sparkly antennae headband, handing me an empty bottle when I was in high school. She meant “Paddy” and “Sláinte,” which is Irish for ‘health’ (pronounced slawn-cheh). There were orange Leprechaun beards galore, beer goggles, advertisements for corned beef and cabbage, people handing out baked potatoes and people ‘Irish dancing.’ In the city of Chicago, the river runs green. Ah, Saint Patrick’s Day. Patrick’s Day, Paddy’s Day, Lá fhéile Pádraig. How did we get here?
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are held around the world, from Boston to Buenos Aires, and Russia to Jamaica. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was actually born in what is now the United Kingdom and taken as a slave to Ireland. After many years, he escaped to mainland Europe, studied and became a priest, and returned to Ireland after voices in a dream begged him to return and spread the Good News. He spent the remainder of his life professing the Gospel, performing miracles, and converting the people of Ireland. Chances are, you may have heard the tale of how St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland. This isn’t true since Ireland never had any snakes to begin with. The snakes are simply an analogy for paganism, as Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. Patrick’s feast day, March 17, has been celebrated by the Irish as a religious holiday for more than a millennia, mainly celebrated by going to Mass and spending time with family.
Irish immigration to America is the reason behind the parades and massive celebrations connected to St. Patrick’s Day. In 1762, in New York, a group of soldiers walked down to a tavern on March 17, creating the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, there are more than 200,000 participants in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade with nearly 3,000,000 spectators. During the Potato Famine, or Great Hunger, hundreds of thousands of Irish refugees sought better lives in America and brought their traditions with them. More than a million people were forced to flee their homeland for survival and clung to their culture in a society that wished they would get out of America. In the States, Irish neighbourhoods had large celebrations, and soon, cities had parades.
Hundreds of thousands of people attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade here in Dublin, and this year’s theme is “Home is Where the Heart is.” As a nation of historical emigration, Ireland holds a special place in people’s hearts; almost 80 million people worldwide claim some Irish ancestry, 36 million being Americans. These numbers are astounding as Ireland herself (including Northern Ireland) only has a population of 6.5 million.
Here in Ireland there are special St. Patrick’s Day deals at clubs and music venues, record numbers of tourists, parades in towns and villages across the country, Mass, dancing, music, family dinners, but no green rivers here. No matter where you are, or who you are, you can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. As the saying goes, “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” It’s the spirit of the holiday, of uniting with people for love of music, dance, and celebration – of laughing, smiling, spending time with people you love, being determined despite hardship and seeing beauty in the crazy world around you.
So, from the Duhawks in Dublin, sláinte! May you (safely) celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day, count your blessings, and may you spend time with friends and loved ones. Try not to do too many terrible Irish accents this year! Happy St. Paddy’s Day, Duhawks.