Today is St. Patrick’s Day, another holiday that has gotten so far from its original intent to be nearly unrecognizable. St. Patrick is a patron saint of Ireland and is believed to have died on March 17 in 461. He is famous for bringing Christianity to Ireland. But he wasn’t Irish.
As a youth, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. He eventually escaped and made his way home, where he became a priest. He later returned to Ireland and began converting the Celts to Christianity.
But what about the shamrock, “wearing of the green” and excessive drinking?
- Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the holy trinity of Christianity.
- Green has been associated with Ireland for centuries and has greater roots in Irish nationalism than anything to do directly with St. Patrick.
- Since St. Patrick’s Day was a feast day in the church, Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted. In the middle of Lent, it became an excuse to over-indulge.
Somewhere between nine and 10 million Irish citizens left home over the last three hundred years. At its peak, the population of Ireland was only 8.5 million. Today, there are about six and a half million people living in Ireland. Estimates vary, but approximately 80 million people world-wide claim Irish descent and 36 million of them are Americans. Oppression, religious and governmental, famine and starvation, and opportunity were all reasons the Irish left home.
A large group of Irish (and Scots) settlers ended up in West Virginia and throughout Appalachia. Opportunities to build railroads and canals, along with timbering and coal mining, were primary draws. I’m sure some of them ended up here because the mountains and the forests reminded them of home. That’s probably what led many of them to put down roots and stay. I often wonder what it must have been like to board a ship crossing the Atlantic with little or no money, no job and only a vague understanding of what they faced. It must have been terrifying, but they did it anyway. They brought with them so many traditions that we take for granted, and assume are part of Appalachian life, from music to dancing to food and even beer and whiskey production.
The actual holiday for St. Patrick isn’t until next Tuesday, but many bars and restaurants will celebrate the holiday this weekend. It’s much easier to overindulge on a weekend, than on a weeknight. So, have fun this weekend, and have a designated driver or call a cab, but in the midst of your Irish “céilí” remember the nerve and determination it took to bring it to you.
Everyone can be Irish for a night on St. Patrick’s Day..