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.

The First Stamps of Ireland


On December 6, 1922, Ireland began printing its own stamps; prior to this date, Irish stamps were of British origin. To celebrate the new country, these stamps were printed with images of Irish lore and national pride.




The most instantly recognizable is the outline of Ireland (or “Eire”), surrounded by Celtic knot designs, with shamrocks at the top of the stamp. The Emerald Isle floats in a stylized sea, under a decorated arch.






swordAnother stamp in the series depicts the Claíomh Solais (pronounced somewhat like “kleeve-solish”), the Sword of Light. The Sword of Light appears in many Irish and Scottish folktales. Most of these tales involve a hero on a bridal quest who is required to pass three tests; he often succeeds due to help from servants, animals, or supernatural beings. The sword itself is often kept by a supernatural guardian who must be defeated before the hero can possess the weapon. In many cases, it is the object of the hero’s affection who informs him how to defeat the guardian of the sword. Some consider the Sword of Light to be one of the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann; this idea is especially popular in Japan. The sword also has many similarities with tales of Arthur’s sword Excaliber, which was said to shine with the light of thirty torches when he drew it.


The arms of Ireland, with the arms of the four traditional Irish provinces quartered on it, is the design on another stamp in the series. The provinces are Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.





harpLeinster has the traditional Irish harp as the main design, which is based on the Brian Boru harp, a Gaelic harp from the late medieval period, and may be the oldest extant harp in the world. Stone carvings of the classic triangular Irish harp are found from the 10th century forward, and evidence that these harps were in use in the first millennium BCE. It has always been one of the preferred symbols of Ireland. A right-facing version of the harp is also used as the logo for Guinness Beer.


crownsMunster’s arms feature three old-fashioned crowns with five visible rays, likely derived from the Lordship of Ireland (though some link it to Robert de Vere’s dukedom of Ireland in 1386).



handUlster is represented by a combination arms: the cross of the arms of the de Burgh with the O’Neill’s red hand. Since these early stamps were monochromatic, the colors in the coats of arms could not be accurately depicted.


eagleThe arms of Connacht are also a combination; on the left side, an eagle, and on the right, a hand holding a sword. It is thought that these arms derive from the Schottenklöster (Gaelic monastery) in Regensburg, Germany. These arms combined the symbol of the Holy Roman Emperor (protector of the abbey) with the symbol of the O’Briens, one of whom was listed as a fundator of the abbey. It is possible that these arms were given to King of Connacht Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, who was the last High King of Ireland prior to the Norman invasion.


crossThe last stamp in the series is a stylized cross with shamrocks and Celtic knotwork. One of the most potent figures in Irish history and folktales is Saint Patrick, who brought Christianity to the island in the fifth century. Patrick was a child in Roman Britain when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. After escaping, he felt called by God to return to Ireland as a missionary. It is said that Ireland has no snakes because Saint Patrick drove them out. He is also said to have escaped the grasp of a murderous king when he and his followers were turned into a herd of deer when assassins passed by. Irish Christianity retained a distinctive flavor for centuries, and even influenced the color of liturgical garments in the modern Western church.


Irish stamps are not only beautiful, but full of stories and a good addition to any collection.