St. Patrick’s Day is a lie, but at least it is fun


Ellis McGinleyCopy Editor

Another Saint Patrick’s Day has come and gone, its festivities subdued by the pandemic – but not yet quashed. Everywhere, some small recognition could be found: Conn Hall put up shamrocks! The Chicago River went green! President Biden wore his lucky tie!

While I spent it in my PJs hacking at midterms, St. Patty’s is of personal significance. I am the product of a sprawling Irish-Catholic brood: on my mother’s side, a great-great-great-something grandfather was deported during the famine, and more would come to settle in Maine and Massachusetts. On my father’s, some went to Nova Scotia, while others scattered fleeing the Irish Civil War.

So I think I have the right to say it: Saint Patrick’s Day is a corned-beef-and-cabbage-scented lie.

First, St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born in Roman Britain, although the land is now part of Scotland, and brought to Ireland in captivity where he was forced to tend sheep. While enslaved, he found Christianity, and at age 20 claimed to receive a “dream from God,” according to the aptly titled Catholic.org.

St. Patrick would later return to Ireland as a missionary and bishop. He took some nature-based rituals from native practices, like sun icons and bonfires, and “chased the snakes out of Ireland” – a phrase speculated to refer not to real snakes, but paganism, which featured braided hair and snake-like tattoos.

Within 200 years, Ireland was Christian. And St. Patrick?

Well, not a saint. He was never formally canonized.After his efforts, much of Ireland’s native faith was lost, as the Druids were oral storytellers. Anecdotes like Brigid – the blacksmithing, poet-goddess – became more “palatable” as St. Brigit, and Ostara, the spring equinox, melted into Easter.

Not-quite-St. Patrick’s original color was blue, and only became green to better match the Isle – and while we’re on Irish imagery: the shamrock may grow over the Isle, but the national symbol is actually a harp or cláirseach. It was a symbol of resistance against the Church good ol’ Patrick laid the roots for.

How did we derive the ultimate party from a bishop in blue? Irish-American immigrants. St. Patrick’s Day was once a quiet religious day, but when famine, unrest and accursed British pushed us out, it came with.

At the time, upper-class Americans famously didn’t care for the Irish – ‘need not apply’ signs may ring a bell. It wasn’t until the Civil War public opinion changed, as we enlisted en masse for the cause. In the in-between, we turned St. Patty’s from a celebration of religion and folk heroes a celebration of being Irish – America didn’t like us and Ireland couldn’t take us, so what were we to do?

Generations removed, I appreciate the sentiment. I can’t speak for the true Irish, but even if it means I must look at hideous ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ shirts, I’m glad to have a day to reflect on how much times have changed, preferably over a Shamrock Shake and soda bread.

Next St. Patty’s, have fun. The holiday may be as fake as the green of your drink, but the world will be a different place then, and I suspect we’ll all need a day to pretend we have no troubles. What better day than this?

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