St. Patrick’s day is Ireland’s gift to the world. Our way of saying “Look. We’re sorry about Bono and for allowing the gingers to happen. Have a drunken binge in the middle of the week on us!”
Surprisingly, on a day that’s become about celebrating the fact that your grandfather’s grandfather once talked to an Irish person, there are a few myths and misconceptions floating around about the holiday.
1. The Myth: St. Patrick is Irish
St. Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint and is as synonymous with the country as leprechauns, Guinness and crippling alcoholism. He’s responsible for converting a country of filthy, pagan Celts into filthy, God-fearing Christians so he’s got to be right up there with Colin Farrell, Bono and that guy from the Lucky Charms commercial on the list of famous Irish people. Right?
Patrick was born Maewyn Succat, a Roman Briton. Historically astute readers might remember that the Romans never bothered to conquer Ireland (unfortunately this marks the only time in Irish history where an empire decided we weren’t worth it) and they’d be right. That’s because Maewyn, who we honestly can’t blame him for changing his name, was actually born in what would probably be Scotland today.
Yeah. Patrick lived in Scotland until he was sixteen when he was captured and sold into slavery by Irish pirates…which apparently existed at one point? How the hell did I only find out about this now? How has nobody made a movie about Irish pirates before? Sorry… back on topic.
He spent the next six years of his life tending to sheep in the hills of Ireland. Since the options for a sheep herder in those days were “find God,” “cry wolf,” or “bestiality” young Patrick eventually became a devout Christian. Upon gaining his freedom Patrick decided to join the priesthood and bring the word of the Lord to the people that had enslaved him for the better part of a decade instead of, I don’t know, raising an army and burning the f***ing country to the ground like some of us would have done.
Although this might seem like pretty weak vengeance St. Patrick was playing the long game. For hundreds of generations to come millions of Irish children would be dragged from their beds every week on cold Sunday mornings to attend Mass instead of just sacrificing the odd bull or virgin like their lucky pagan ancestors.
So, yeah. Thanks for that, Patrick…
2. The Myth: St. Patrick Is a Saint
Say what you like about Patrick but you can’t deny that he’s one of the most popular and well known Saints of the Catholic church. In fact he’s the most popular.
Of Course he’s a saint. It’s in his name!
Patrick has never been formerly canonized by any pope so technically he’s not a proper saint.
It seems that before about the 10th century saints weren’t chosen by the Vatican but at a more local level with dioceses basically able to elevate their own holy men to Sainthood. Instead of the fairly strict process of canonization that the church has now when the Vatican drew up the first official list of Saints they basically accepted the earlier established ones via the honor system.
So while his feast day is officially recognised as a holy day of obligation nobody ever bothered to formally canonize him, presumably because it would mean that they’d have to do it to the thousands of other saints that were around before they got their act together.
3. The Myth: St. Patrick’s Day Parade Is an Irish Tradition
When we think of St. Patrick’s Day these days, we think of the massive parades that occur in nearly every major city in American and all over the world. Those parades are pretty much all the marching bands and those chicks with the batons have to look forward to all year.
The first parade was probably done in some small Irish village hundreds of years ago. Right?
Try Boston in 1737, when Irish immigrants marched in protest of their low social status at that time. The Parade as we know it today probably originated in New York in 1762, when Irish soldiers in the British military and local Irish immigrants marched to celebrate their heritage. This was over 150 years before the first parade in Ireland in 1931.
You see, while Irish people have a history of marches and parades in favour of things like stupid, petty ideological squabbles between two almost identical religions, nobody thought about doing one for an actual non-conflicty reason until we saw you Americans do it.
4. The Myth: St. Patrick’s Day Is Ireland’s Excuse to Get Drunk
St. Patrick’s day has always been synonymous with drunken excesses. It just wouldn’t be Paddy’s day without drinking your bodyweight in Guinness, urinating on a police horse and then passing out in a pool of emerald vomit.
Knowing how much the Irish drink on any other day of the year then St. Patrick’s day must have been one huge country-wide bender.
It was illegal for bars to remain open on March 17 in Ireland for most of the 20th century. From 1905 until around 1966 pubs were forbidden from selling alcohol on St. Patrick’s day since it was supposed to be a solemn day of holy obligation rather than the drunken bacchanalia that its become. The fact that it occurs right in the middle of Lent, the time of the Catholic calender when happiness is pretty much frowned upon, meant that it was supposed to one of the more sombre days of the year.
The only place that was allowed to sell alcohol was the annual dog show which we’re guessing led to a large number of men becoming suddenly and inexplicably interested in terrier breeding around mid-March.
I wish I could say that after 1966 the Irish government never enforced laws based on religion again but it’s still illegal to sell alcohol on Good Friday in 2013 because occasionally Ireland likes to remind people that America’s not the only country with problems separating church and state.
5. The Myth: St. Patrick’s Color is green
If you could travel in time and bring St. Patrick to the present day he’d probably be so proud that millions of people around the globe choose to celebrate his legacy by sporting his trademark colour, wearing green “kiss me I’m Irish” t-shirts and dying their terrible, terrible beer a healthy emerald.
If you brought him to modern times (after he was done screaming and trying to burn you as a witch) he’d probably wonder why the hell everyone was wearing green.
That’s because originally the color associated with Patrick (and Ireland) was blue. St. Patrick’s blue was a specific shade that represented him and his adopted country for hundreds of years and it’s still used as the color of the Irish Presidential standard.
This one’s pretty straight forward to explain. In the years since Patrick’s death the color green became associated with the Irish Nationalists in their attempts to separate from Britain (explosively if necessary) and became the default color for the country. As the holiday became more and more about conforming to as many negative national stereotypes as possible and less about the man himself the blue was replaced.
But still despite all these fallacies, I’m sure at the end of the day St. Patrick would be thrilled to know that the world comes to a halt every year to venerate his name…by wearing a completely unrelated color, celebrating the nation that enslaved him and drinking to excess rather than praying. Just…nobody tell him that the Vatican couldn’t be bothered canonizing him. The guy can control snakes!
Richy Craven is Irish, so he’s allowed to make fun of the country all he wants. You can check out more of his stuff over at Cracked, Zug or keep up with his ongoing quest to find gainful employment on Twitter.
One stereotype we’re happy to report is true are the examples found in 10 Beautiful Irish Actresses. But if you’re just here for the negative caricatures, head over to our extensive St. Patrick’s Day rogues gallery.