- James Farrelly*
- The Conversation
In 1997 I traveled with my students to Croagh Patrick, a mountain in County Mayo in Ireland.
It was part of a study abroad program on Irish literature taught at the University of Dayton.
I wanted my students to visit the place where, every July, thousands of pilgrims pay homage to Saint Patrick, who according to tradition fasted and prayed at the summit for 40 days.
There, the tour guide told the story of how Saint Patrick, while lying on his deathbed on March 17, 461, allegedly asked those around him to toast his trip to heaven with “a little drop of whiskey” for ease your pain.
The mention of whiskey left me wondering if Saint Patrick inadvertently influenced the way most of the world celebrates his memory: drinking.
The festival of Saint Patrick began in the seventeenth century. It was then a religious and cultural commemoration of the bishop who brought Christianity to Ireland.
In that country there is still a cultural and religious component to this holiday, although it has become an excuse to wear green and drink a lot in the rest of the world.
The legend of Saint Patrick
Due to speculation about the historical details of Saint Patrick’s life, scholars often have a difficult time separating fact from legend.
In his spiritual memoirs, “Confessio”, Saint Patrick describes how he came to Ireland as a slave.
He managed to escape and was reunited with his family in Great Britain, probably Scotland.
But while he was there he often dreamed of being asked by the “Voice of the Irish” to return to Ireland to baptize and minister to them. And so he did.
The Irish revere the account of this dream, accept the simplicity and fervor of its words and are grateful for its selfless commitment to your spiritual well-being.
St. Patrick’s efforts to turn the Irish into Catholics have never been easy.
Seeing it as a challenge to their power and authority, Ireland’s high kings and pagan high priests, called Druids, resisted their efforts to convert the population.
But thanks to his missionary efforts he was able to fuse Irish culture with Christianity, either with the introduction of the Celtic Cross or the use of bonfires to celebrate holidays such as Easter.
But many of these stories can be about simple myths.
Yet centuries after his death, the Irish continue to show their gratitude for their patron saint by wearing a bouquet of shamrocks on March 17.
They start the day with a mass, followed by a party that lasts all day, and prayer and reflection in the evening.
St. Patrick’s Day goes global
Between 1820 and 1860, almost two million people left Ireland. Many due to the Great Famine (potato famine) between 1840 and 1850.
Many others emigrated in the 20th century to reunite with family and escape poverty and unemployment in Ireland.
Once settled, they found new ways to celebrate Saint Patrick and their Irish identity in their new homes.
The Irish-Americans, specifically, quickly transformed March 17 into a commercial enterprise.
The mandatory “wearing green” is a far cry from the original tradition of honoring the memory of Saint Patrick with shamrocks.
The famous parades emerged mostly in New York and Boston. The great revelry took place and even the beer was dyed green.
The children of Irish Americans in America have assimilated Irish culture from a distance.
Perhaps many know that Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. However, they may not fully appreciate the saint’s mystical stature like those who did grow up on the Emerald Isle.
Ask a child of any age in Ireland about Saint Patrick and they will give you stories of their magical abilities, from his power to drive the snakes out of Ireland to the use of the three leaves and a stem of the clover to demystify the doctrine of the Trinity of the Catholic Church.
They see Saint Patrick as a miracle worker, and as adults, they keep their legends alive in their own way.
Some follow in the footsteps of the saint through Ireland, from a well to a hill, to the altar and the chapel, seeking his blessing and goodness wherever their journey takes them.
Raise the glasses
In America, of course, the holy day is above all a feast.
In a few years, Americans have spent $ 6.16 billion celebrating it, consuming 13 million pints of Guinness.
Some parts of the country even have a previous celebration, on September 17, known as “Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day.”
Where this all leads is anyone’s guess.
But starting in the 1990s, Ireland seemed to grasp the income potential of the American version.
March 17 is still a holy day for natives and a holiday for tourists from around the world, with the pubs making a lot of money on St. Patrick’s Day.
But I’ve always wondered: what if St. Patrick had asked for a silent prayer instead of “a little drop of whiskey” to toast his passing?
Would their celebration have been more sacred than profane?
*James Farrelly is a professor of English at the University of Dayton in Ohio, United States.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.