In the US we have a saying: “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day”
So close is America to its Irish roots that we wear green, put on parades, and even dye the White House fountain green to mark the occasion.
Amidst all the pomp and circumstance, however, the meaning of Ireland’s national holiday has been lost to many of us.
On my recent trip to Dublin I sought out to uncover the man behind the holiday.
Who was St. Patrick?
This was the first question our guide asked as we began our walking tour through Dublin. Not surprisingly, our group – which consisted of mainly Americans I might add – didn’t come up with any satisfying answers. Not to worry, our Dublin-native guide filled us in.
According to him, the patron saint of Ireland started out life in 5th-century Roman-Britain. Some say Wales, others aren’t quite as convinced. Either way, most agree that as a teen he was enslaved and brought to the Emerald Isle where he worked as a shepherd in modern-day Country Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was here that he forged a relationship with God. After six years he escaped slavery and journeyed back to Britain.
Back home and reunited with his family, Patrick experienced a “vision” some time later that urged him to return to Ireland. Following his vision he sailed back to the Emerald Isle, where he converted and baptised thousands of early Dubliners to Christianity.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Our walking tour in the footsteps of St. Patrick took us through the very core of Dublin; past remnants of old Viking settlements, past Christ Church Cathedral, and then finally to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Situated in an otherwise unremarkable corner of the city, it occupies the same general area where Patrick did his handy work. Legend has it that Ireland’s future patron saint used the clover – or shamrock – to explain the Holy Trinity to early Dubliners. Evidence points to him converting thousands of pagans to the Christian faith, and is thus credited for driving the snakes (paganism) from Ireland.
The cathedral’s simple stone edifice conceals a colourful interior featuring geometric floor tiles and intricate stained glass injected with a heavy dose of green. Forget the Guinness Storehouse, Jameson Whiskey distillery, and the rowdy pubs of Temple Bar – THIS is Dublin’s must-see attraction.
St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations
Patrick was named the patron saint of Ireland in the 7th century. Much of what we know – or think we know – about him comes from a handful of old texts and through oral history.
As the centuries wore on, his legend grew. Evidence of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, originally a religious feast, can be traced back as far as the 11th century. The holiday’s more recent incarnation, which is much more closely tied with Irish nationalism, can be traced back to Irish uprisings during a time when the whole of Ireland was under British rule. St. Patrick’s shamrock and the colour green soon became synonymous with Catholicism and Irish national identity.
The tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day parade was started by a group in homesick Irish immigrants in New York City in 1762. In moderns times the holiday has gone global. Monuments across the world, including the Pyramids of Egypt and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil all went #Green4PatricksDay this year. Over in Ireland’s capital city, it has evolved into a multi-day festival highlighting Ireland as a cultural and tourist destination.
As St. Patrick’s Day celebrations spread across globe, I think it’s interesting to look back and see where it all began. If you’re visiting Dublin in mid-March you can walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick with Pat Liddy’s Walking Tours of Dublin. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is open daily to visitors.
(My trip to Ireland was sponsored by Tourism Ireland. However, all opinions are my own.)