Saint Patrick's Day

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Saint Patrick's Day
A stained glass window depicts Saint Patrick dressed in a green robe with a halo about his head, holding a sham rock in his right hand and a staff in his left.
Saint Patrick depicted in a stained-glass window at Saint Benin's Church, Ireland
Official nameSaint Patrick's Day
Also called
  • Feast of Saint Patrick
  • Lá Fhéile Pádraig
  • Patrick's Day
  • (St) Paddy's Day
  • (St) Patty's Day (chiefly North America)[1][2][3][4]
Observed by
TypeEthnic, national, Christian
Feast day of Saint Patrick,
commemoration of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland[5][6]
17 March
Next time17 March 2024 (2024-03-17)

Saint Patrick's Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick (Irish: Lá Fhéile Pádraig, lit.'the Day of the Festival of Patrick'), is a religious and cultural holiday held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. 385 – c. 461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

Saint Patrick's Day was made an official Christian

drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday's tradition of alcohol consumption.[8][9][11][12]

Saint Patrick's Day is a

national festival.[17] Modern celebrations have been greatly influenced by those of the Irish diaspora, particularly those that developed in North America. However, there has been criticism of Saint Patrick's Day celebrations for having become too commercialised and for fostering negative stereotypes of the Irish people.[18]

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and Bishop in Ireland. Much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in

Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland.[19] It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he found God. The Declaration says that God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.[20]

According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the

Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years evangelising in the northern half of Ireland and converted thousands.

Patrick's efforts were eventually turned into an allegory in which he drove "snakes", heathen practices, out of Ireland, despite the fact that actual snakes were not known to inhabit the region.[21]

Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland's foremost saint.

Celebration and traditions

Museum of Country Life in County Mayo

Today's Saint Patrick's Day celebrations have been greatly influenced by those that developed among the Irish diaspora, especially in North America. Until the late 20th century, Saint Patrick's Day was often a bigger celebration among the diaspora than it was in Ireland.[17]

Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions (

youth groups, fraternities, and so on. However, over time, many of the parades have become more akin to a carnival. More effort is made to use the Irish language, especially in Ireland, where 1 March to St Patrick's Day on 17 March is Seachtain na Gaeilge ("Irish language week").[23]

Since 2010, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on Saint Patrick's Day as part of Tourism Ireland's "Global Greening Initiative" or "Going Green for St Patrick's Day".[24][25] The Sydney Opera House and the Sky Tower in Auckland were the first landmarks to participate and since then over 300 landmarks in fifty countries across the globe have gone green for Saint Patrick's Day.[26][27]

Christians may also attend

drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, drinking alcohol – particularly Irish whiskey, beer, or cider – has become an integral part of the celebrations.[8][9][11][12] The Saint Patrick's Day custom of "drowning the shamrock" or "wetting the shamrock" was historically popular. At the end of the celebrations, especially in Ireland, a shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer, or cider. It is then drunk as a toast to Saint Patrick, Ireland, or those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink or taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck. [28][29][30]

Irish Government ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around St Patrick's Day to promote Ireland.[31][32]

Wearing green and shamrocks

On Saint Patrick's Day, it is customary to wear

triskele when he uses the shamrock to explain the Trinity".[37] Patricia Monaghan says there is no evidence the shamrock was sacred to the pagan Irish.[35] Jack Santino speculates that it may have represented the regenerative powers of nature, and was recast in a Christian context‍—‌icons of St Patrick often depict the saint "with a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrocks in the other".[38]

The first association of the colour green with Ireland is from a legend in the 11th century

eponymous ancestor of the Gaels and creator of the Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx).[39][40] Goídel is bitten by a venomous snake but saved from death by Moses placing his staff on the snakebite, leaving him with a green mark. His descendants settle in Ireland, a land free of snakes.[41] One of the first, Íth, visits Ireland after climbing the Tower of Hercules and being captivated by the sight of a beautiful green island in the distance.[39][40][41]

The colour green was further associated with Ireland from the 1640s, when the

United Irishmen. This was a republican organisation—founded mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members—who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule. Ireland was first called "the Emerald Isle" in "When Erin First Rose" (1795), a poem by a co-founder of the United Irishmen, William Drennan, which stresses the historical importance of green to the Irish.[47][48][49][50] The phrase "wearing of the green" comes from a song of the same name about United Irishmen being persecuted for wearing green. The flags of the 1916 Easter Rising featured green, such as the Starry Plough banner and the Proclamation Flag of the Irish Republic. When the Irish Free State was founded in 1922, the government ordered all post boxes be painted green, with the slogan "green paint for a green people";[51][52] in 1924, the government introduced a green Irish passport.[53][54][55]

The wearing of the 'St Patrick's Day Cross' was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early 20th century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was "covered with silk or ribbon of different colours, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre".[56]


Saint Patrick's

Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding.[58] Saint Patrick's Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Catholics in Ireland. It is also a feast day in the Church of Ireland, part of the Anglican Communion. The church calendar avoids the observance of saints' feasts during certain solemnities, moving the saint's day to a time outside those periods. Saint Patrick's Day is occasionally affected by this requirement, when 17 March falls during Holy Week. This happened in 1940, when Saint Patrick's Day was officially observed on 3 April to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and again in 2008, where it was officially observed on 15 March.[59] Saint Patrick's Day will not fall within Holy Week again until 2160.[60][61] However, the popular festivities may still be held on 17 March or on a weekend near to the feast day.[62]

In 1903, Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland due to the

The first Saint Patrick's Day parade in Ireland was held in

Gaelic League and in Waterford they opted to have a procession on Sunday 15 March. The procession comprised the Mayor and members of Waterford Corporation, the Trades Hall, the various trade unions and bands who included the 'Barrack St Band' and the 'Thomas Francis Meagher Band'.[64] The parade began at the premises of the Gaelic League in George's St and finished in the Peoples Park, where the public were addressed by the Mayor and other dignitaries.[65][66] On Tuesday 17 March, most Waterford businesses—including public houses—were closed and marching bands paraded as they had two days previously.[67]

On Saint Patrick's Day 1916, the Irish Volunteers—an Irish nationalist paramilitary organisation—held parades throughout Ireland. The authorities recorded 38 St Patrick's Day parades, involving 6,000 marchers, almost half of whom were reported to be armed.[68] The following month, the Irish Volunteers launched the Easter Rising against British rule. This marked the beginning of the Irish revolutionary period and led to the Irish War of Independence and Civil War. During this time, Saint Patrick's Day celebrations in Ireland were muted, although the day was sometimes chosen to hold large political rallies.[69]

The celebrations remained low-key after the creation of the

mass attended by government ministers.[70] In 1927, the Irish Free State government banned the selling of alcohol on St Patrick's Day, although it remained legal in Northern Ireland. The ban was not repealed until 1961.[71]

The first official, state-sponsored Saint Patrick's Day parade in Dublin took place in 1931.[72] Public St Patrick's Day festivities in Ireland have been cancelled three times, all for public health reasons.[73][74] In 2001, celebrations were postponed to May due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak,[75][76][77] while in 2020 and 2021 they were cancelled outright due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[78][79][80][81][82][83][84]

In Northern Ireland, the celebration of Saint Patrick's Day was affected by sectarian divisions.[85] A majority of the population were Protestant Ulster unionists who saw themselves primarily as British, while a substantial minority were Catholic Irish nationalists who saw themselves primarily as Irish. Although it was a public holiday, Northern Ireland's unionist government did not officially observe St Patrick's Day.[85] During the conflict known as the Troubles (late 1960s–late 1990s), public St Patrick's Day celebrations were rare and tended to be associated with the Catholic community.[85] In 1976, loyalists detonated a car bomb outside a pub crowded with Catholics celebrating St Patrick's Day in Dungannon; four civilians were killed and many injured. However, some Protestant unionists attempted to 're-claim' the festival, and in 1985 the Orange Order held its own Saint Patrick's Day parade.[85] Since the end of the conflict in 1998 there have been cross-community St Patrick's Day parades in towns throughout Northern Ireland, which have attracted thousands of spectators.[85]

In the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use Saint Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland and its culture.[86] The government set up a group called St Patrick's Festival, with the aims of creating a world-class national festival and "to project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal".[87] The first Saint Patrick's Festival was held on 17 March 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2006, the festival was five days long. More than 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade, and that year's festival saw almost 1 million visitors, who took part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theatre performances, and fireworks.[88] From 2006 to 2012 the Skyfest formed the centrepiece of the Saint Patrick's Festival.[89][90]

The week around Saint Patrick's Day is Seachtain na Gaeilge ("Irish Language Week"), when more Irish language events are held and there is more effort to use the language.[91]

Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of Saint Patrick's Day. In The Word magazine's March 2007 issue, Fr Vincent Twomey wrote, "It is time to reclaim St Patrick's Day as a church festival". He questioned the need for "mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry" and concluded that "it is time to bring the piety and the fun together".[92]

One of the biggest celebrations outside the cities is in Downpatrick, County Down, where Saint Patrick is said to be buried. The shortest Saint Patrick's Day parade in the world formerly took place in Dripsey, County Cork. The parade lasted just 23.4 metres and traveled between the village's two pubs. The tradition began in 1999, but ended after five years when one of the pubs closed.[93]

Celebrations elsewhere


Saint Patrick's Day 2016 in an Irish pub in Hamburg
, Germany


Saint Patrick's Day celebration at Trafalgar Square
in London, 2006

In England, the

Duke of Cambridge in place of his wife.[96][97] Fresh Shamrocks are presented to the Irish Guards, regardless of where they are stationed, and are flown in from Ireland.[98]

While some Saint Patrick's Day celebrations could be conducted openly in Britain pre 1960s, this would change following the commencement by the IRA's bombing campaign on mainland Britain and as a consequence this resulted in a suspicion of all things Irish and those who supported them which led to people of Irish descent wearing a sprig of shamrock on Saint Patrick's day in private or attending specific events.[99] Today after many years following the Good Friday Agreement, people of Irish descent openly wear a sprig of shamrock to celebrate their Irishness.[99]

Christian denominations in Great Britain observing his

The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.[100]

Birmingham holds the largest Saint Patrick's Day parade in Britain with a city centre parade[101] over a two-mile (3 km) route through the city centre. The organisers describe it as the third biggest parade in the world after Dublin and New York.[102]

London, since 2002, has had an annual Saint Patrick's Day parade which takes place on weekends around the 17th, usually in Trafalgar Square. In 2008 the water in the Trafalgar Square fountains was dyed green. In 2020 the Parade was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[citation needed]

Liverpool has the highest proportion of residents with Irish ancestry of any English city.[103] This has led to a long-standing celebration on Saint Patrick's Day in terms of music, cultural events and the parade.[citation needed]

Manchester hosts a two-week Irish festival in the weeks prior to Saint Patrick's Day. The festival includes an Irish Market based at the city's town hall which flies the Irish tricolour opposite the Union Flag, a large parade as well as a large number of cultural and learning events throughout the two-week period.[104]


Porte des Bombes
illuminated in green on Saint Patrick's Day of 2014