Six Things You Should Know About St. Patrick

… and 12 completely unnecessary facts about the day celebrated in his honor

The Man…

  1. March 17th marks St. Patrick’s Day, the Catholic feast day for the patron saint of Ireland, who died on that day in the 5th century.
  2. Patrick was not Irish but was born in Wales in about AD 385 and for much of his youth did not practice the Catholic faith. He considered himself a pagan until the age of 16 when he was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village and brought to Ireland. During his 6 year captivity, he became closer to God.
  3. He did not remain in Ireland but instead escaped to Gaul (France) where he studied for the priesthood. In a dream he saw “all the children of Ireland from their mothers’ wombs stretching out their hands” to him. He understood this as his calling to convert the Irish Druids to Christianity.
  4. His name was orginally Maewyn. He took the Christian name of Patrick after becoming a Catholic.
  5. St. Patrick did not drive all the snakes from Ireland into the Irish Sea (Although some still say that this is why the sea is so rough). Snakes have never been indigenous to Ireland. Snakes are possibly a code word for the devil here. Some have also claimed that Patrick raised people from the dead. While many miracles have been attributed to Patrick this legend is, as the Irish say “a bunch of malarkey.”
  6. After years of living in poverty, traveling and enduring much suffering he died on March 17 around the year 461.

The Mania…

  1. While the “wearin o’ the green” has become traditional dress, the color was often considered to be unlucky.
  2. Pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day, well into the 1970s.
  3. It is a heresy to call Guinness “beer.” It is “dry stout” based upon the porter style that originated in London in the early 1700s.
  4. Despite winning major advertising awards, Guinness sales have fallen in Ireland since 1998. It has, however, become more popular in the states showing a 9% sales increase.
  5. On St. Patrick’s Day alone 13 Million pints of Guinness are drunk worldwide with 3.5 million quaffed in the United States alone.
  6. On St Patrick’s Day gardeners often plant at least one potato, despite cold weather, to ensure a good harvest for the coming year. Speculation is that this derived from the Irish Potato Famine.
  7. While corned beef and cabbage is enjoyed on St. Patrick’s Day, only cabbage is an original staple of the Irish diet. Traditionally Irish bacon, not corned beef accompanied the meal. Irish Americans around the turn of the century could not afford bacon and substituted the cheaper alternative of corned beef after learning about it from their Jewish neighbors.
  8. New York’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the longest running civilian parade in the world. Three million spectators are expected to watch and over 150,000 march down New York’s famed Fifth Avenue. 34 million United States residents claim Irish ancestry, which is ten times the entire population of Ireland today. New York is often considered the birthplace of the St Patrick’s Day parade however, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737. New York’s celebration began in 1766 when Irish soldiers in the British army marched through the city.
  9. While the New York parade has banned Gay and Lesbian Irish organizations from the parade, in Ireland gay and lesbian citizens are allowed to march.
  10. Chicago is famous for dyeing the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. According to the Friends of the Chicago River, a local environmental group, more people are likely to view the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day than on any other day.
  11. Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is only about 75 years old and it draws only 400,000 spectators.
  12. The city of Maryville, MO may have the shortest parade. It runs one block on Buchanan from Fourth Street to Fifth Street. The parade attempts to get shorter and shorter each year to maintain the record over other cities like Boulder, CO who try to beat the record.. It was 86 feet in 2006.
Mike Hayes

Mike co-founded in 2001. Currently, Mike is the director of campus ministry at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. A frequent speaker on ministering to young adults, Mike is the author of "Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in Their 20s and 30s" and "Loving Work: A Spiritual Guide to Finding the Work We Love and Bringing Love to the Work We Do."