The History of St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. What is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland when he was sixteen years old. It says that he spent a total of six years working as a shepherd and that during this time he found God. The Declaration says that God spoke to Patrick, and told him to flee to the coast, where a ship would take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.

Irish Government Ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around the globe to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and promote Ireland. The most prominent of these is the visit of the Irish Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) with the U.S. President which happens on or around St. Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilís, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival.

According to the tale, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years in the northern half of Ireland and redesigned the religious beliefs of thousands. Patrick’s efforts against the religious leaders were eventually turned into a legend in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland.

Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s most memorable saint.

Conventionally, the Taoiseach presents the U.S. President a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with shamrocks. This ritual began when Irish Ambassador to the U.S. John Hearne sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry S. Truman in 1952. From that moment, it became an annual tradition for the Irish ambassador to present the St Patrick’s Day shamrock to an official in the U.S. President’s administration. However, it was only after the meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and President Bill Clinton in 1994 that the presenting of the shamrock ceremony became an annual event for the leaders of both countries for St Patrick’s Day.

Needless to say, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries and one of the longest-running and largest St. Patrick’s Day parades occurs each year in Montreal, Canada, whose city flag includes a shamrock in lower right corner. The yearly celebration has been organised by the United Irish Societies of Montreal since 1929. The parade has been held yearly without interruption since 1824. St Patrick’s Day itself, however, has been celebrated in Montreal since as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers in the Montreal Garrison following the British conquest of New France.


In present day, celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions, and wearing green clothing, accessories and/or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century, but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century. The events have participants from all walks of life, they generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organizations, charitable organizations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been criticised, particularly for their association with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Some argue that the festivities have become too commercialized and have become somewhat cut-rate and have strayed from their original purpose of honouring St Patrick and Irish heritage. Journalist Niall O’Dowd has criticised attempts to recast St Patrick’s Day as a celebration of multiculturalism rather than a celebration of Irishness.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have also been criticized for fostering offensive stereotypes of Ireland and the Irish people themselves. An very well known example is the people who partake in dressing in ‘leprechaun outfits’, which are based on derogatory 19th century caricatures of the Irish. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, the Ancient Order of Hibernians successfully campaigned to stop major American retailers from selling novelty merchandise that promoted negative Irish stereotypes. This year consider your celebrations and the way you can honor Ireland and Ireland’s beloved Saint Patrick.

Why do Copper Coins Change Colors?

If you’re a coin collector or just happen to handle change a lot, you’ve probably seen old copper coins in various colors. From white to green to blue! Why do these coins take on so many different colors? One may think it’s because of something that got stuck to it, maybe a candy wrapper or some sticky food but these colors are actually naturally occurring!

s-l1600 (13)

pile of various cull wheat cents

There are two common forms of attack upon these older metals. In the milder case, a metal may tarnish. “Tarnish” is a thin coating on the surface of a metal and is usually very uniform and does not often destroy the intended purpose of the metal. “Corrosion,” on the other hand, is often not uniform, but may cause pits and may reach such proportions as to destroy the metallic object so that it cannot be used for its intended purpose.

In dry air, even tarnishing takes place quite slowly; however, with the usual atmosphere around us, the humidity accelerates the tarnishing process. The lowest oxide level of copper is cuprous oxide, or cuprite. Its color is pink. Barely noticeable at first, a penny becomes darker over time due to the tarnish layer thickening, as well as the continued oxidation to the black cupric oxide, tenorite.

Over time, and upon repeated or prolonged exposure to moisture in the presence of dissolved acidic substances, such as carbon dioxide and the polluting substances found in acid rain, tarnished copper turns green. Among these acid substances are the oxides of sulfur and the oxides of nitrogen. Reacting with moisture, they form dilute solutions of strong acids.

Copper that is exposed to open air will corrode and undergo a series of chemical reactions that lead to the development of a patina – a coating of copper oxide molecules which actually protects the metal beneath. Over time, copper transitions from its shiny brown color to a darker brown shade.

After many years it transitions into blues. At an even later stage the formation of copper sulfate, carbonate and chloride salts in varying concentrations turns the surface green. There are several factors which affect the amount of time these processes take including moisture, temperature, and the level of pollution. The formation of the natural green patina seen on copper roofs and statues takes a very long time, but methods have been developed to speed the process up using chemical reactions.

Statue_of_Liberty_7Coins aren’t the only place we often see this chemical reaction take place; we’ve all seen the greenish blue Statue of Liberty, but did you know Lady Liberty was once a copper color? That’s right, the famous statue was once covered in a thin layer of copper and was bronze when she first arrived in the United States from France. Acid in rain covers the Statue of Liberty whenever storms hit New York, and her exposure to oxygen from being in the middle of the ocean gradually turned her blue over the years.

The Radioactive Rock Metatorbernite

Don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt you – at least, not if you don’t handle it for too long. And you wash your hands afterward.

Many radioactive minerals exist in the world, some more radioactive than others. This particular type – metatorbernite – contains uranium and should be handled with care. But even small barriers between yourself and the rock can effectively block the radiation, like a glass case or gloves.

We’ve written about radioactive materials before; radioactive glass pieces from the early 20th century glow in the dark because of their uranium content. They’re not terribly dangerous, however.

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, CC by SA 3.0 - radioactive mineral metatorbernite

Photo by Rob Lavinsky, CC by SA 3.0.

Metatorbernite is a more organic radioactive material. It comes in colors ranging from specks of green on grey to almost black to a bright, almost fluorescent shade of green. You can often tell what materials are radioactive by their appearance. They’re often a neon yellow or green, or a dull opaque texture with rounded crystal edges.

The beauty of this mineral makes it a wonderful addition to a collection or even as a display on its own.

As with any radioactive material, exposure should be limited. Their forms of radiation include gamma rays, which can be harmful. Keep the mineral away from other minerals so they don’t come in contact, and limit holding the mineral in your bare hands. If you do hold the mineral, make sure to wash your hands afterward.

Do you own any metatorbernite? Would you feel comfortable with a radioactive rock in your home?