In Depth

How is St Patrick’s Day celebrated?

Raise a pint on 17 March to the annual Irish festival

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated every year on 17 March, when more than 13 million glasses of Guinness, the Dublin-brewed stout, will be drunk across the world to honour Ireland’s patron saint.

‘Drowning the shamrock’

Ireland’s long-standing affiliation with the shamrock is said to have originated from the teachings of Saint Patrick, who used its three leaves as a metaphor for the holy trinity – the father, son and holy spirit. To celebrate, it has become customary to “drown the shamrock” on St Patrick’s Day. This sees revellers bid the night farewell by taking their national plant and dropping it into their final drink.

It used to be a dry holiday

If you’re a purist who wants to experience an authentic St Patrick’s Day as it was celebrated hundreds of years ago, you may need to put that pint of Guinness down. Irish law between 1903 and 1970 designated St Patrick’s Day a religious holiday, which meant pubs across the country were closed for the day, Catholic Online reported. “The law was overturned in 1970, when St Patrick’s was reclassified as a national holiday – allowing the taps to flow freely once again.”

Today, however, St Patrick’s Day is “arguably one of the largest drinking holidays” in the world and in 2020 it was expected that Americans would spend more $6bn celebrating the holiday, according to Mental Floss. More than 13 million pints of Guinness are expected to be purchased around the globe on the day, which is almost double the amount of Guinness consumed on a normal day worldwide.

The most popular dog show ever?

Despite the volumes of alcohol now consumed on St Patrick’s Day, drinking was once frowned on, largely due to its religious connotations. Pubs were not allowed to open on the day until the 1970s, even though it became a public holiday in Ireland in 1903. According to The Daily Telegraph, there was just one exception: beer vendors could operate at Dublin’s annual dog show, which always coincided with the holiday.  

Eirinn go Brach

Take part in any parade and you’re bound to hear this much-loved Gaelic expression. Roughly translated, it means “Ireland forever”.

A huge tradition in the US

Contrary to popular belief, the St Patrick’s Day parade is largely a US invention. The tradition began in 1792, when Irish expatriate soldiers, serving in the British army, marked the day by marching through the streets of New York. Now an annual event, the New York procession attracts more than 150,000 participants.

Pub crawl

On the other end of the scale, the Irish village of Dripsey in County Cork is known for hosting one of the world’s shortest processions at just 25 yards – the distance between its two pubs.

Island Ireland

The Irish diaspora may be one reason why St Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the globe, with official parades organised in more than 30 countries, The Guardian reported. Arguably one of the most surprising party-throwers is the Caribbean island of Montserrat, dubbed the “Emerald Isle” in memory of the Irish Catholic community which took refuge there in the 17th century. It is the only country outside Ireland to declare 17 March a public holiday.  

Anything but green

Before cladding yourself in shades of green, it may be worthwhile remembering that the knights of St Patrick actually wore blue, Time magazine said. And according to descriptions by leading Irish poets and novelists, leprechauns actually sported red jackets.

Patrick is losing appeal

While St Patrick’s Day remains a cause for celebration across the globe, it appears that the name Patrick is losing popularity among parents. It was the second most popular name for newborn boys in 1965, but only just scraped into the top 20 in 2021, according to Ireland's Central Statistics Office

Where are the women leprechauns?

The Daily Mirror said that according to the ancient book, A History Of Irish Fairies, there is only evidence of the existence of male leprechauns. This caused the newspaper to ponder the feasibility of procreation.

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