The Legend of Green Beer and an Irish Saint

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This March 17th, this one day out of the year, people around town will be packed into bars, drinking green beer, wearing green clothing and exclaiming how jolly they are.

St. Patrick’s Day, was originally a Feast Day in honor of Ireland’s patron saint. He was born named Maewyn Succat, probably around 385 in Kilpatrick, Scotland from wealthy parents. He was kidnapped as a young boy while playing on the beach with his friends and sold off as a slave to pagan Ireland. He escaped back to Scotland after having a “heavenly voice” telling him to come home. He developed a deep sense of peace, forgiving and inspiration for the love of God and felt a call to share it with others. According to his Confession:

“And there one night I heard in my sleep a voice saying to me: ‘It is well that you fast, soon you will go to your own country.’ And again, after a short while, I heard a voice saying to me: ‘See, your ship is ready.’ And it was not near, but at a distance of perhaps two hundred miles, and I had never been there, nor did I know a living soul there; and then I took to flight, and I left the man with whom I had stayed for six years. And I went in the strength of God who directed my way to my good, and I feared nothing until I came to that ship.”

Voices in the Night

The same voices overcame him again in his dreams to return to Ireland and face his previous oppressors. He studied to be a priest and requested to be the Bishop of Ireland, with permission from the Brittan Bishop Quentin. Barely honoring his request and advised that he was going to be terribly unsuccessful, St. Patrick bravely returned and created a series of legends how he overthrew the pagan empire by walking into a building on fire to challenge tribal leaders, introduced the three leaf clover as the Trinity and chased the “snakes” out of Ireland. The freeing of the “snakes” symbolized the freedom of the Irish people from pagan oppression, well known as the snake in Genesis that tempted Adam and Eve. His Confession continues:

“Hence, how did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God, but until now always worshipped idols and things impure, have now been made a people of the Lord, and are called sons of God, that the sons and daughters of the kings of the Irish are seen to be monks and virgins of Christ?”

A New Holiday

However, this became a religious, political and social event. Parades and “wearing of the green” were associated with American celebration. The first St.Patrick’s Day Parade was in New York City on March 17th, 1762, to celebrate the Irish serving in the English military and thereafter American Irish immigrants boast of the day as an American tradition. Since this happened during the season of Lent, the observance of not eating meat was waived by American Bishops to enjoy corned beef, an Irish food staple. The parades were also a way to fight discrimination against Irish and to gain political power from a Protestant majority, and intolerance from their funny accents and drunken behavior. In 1948, President Truman attended a parade to proclaim against these stereotypes and find acceptance for American Irish.

In turn, this holiday somehow created an excuse for most people to pretend they were a stereotypical Irish Immigrant. This helped drive tourism by showcasing the Irish culture in key demographic areas. For example, the Chicago River dyed green, festivals featuring Irish vendors displaying Celtic artwork, firework shows, and the numerous parades in downtown cities that helped local economies. So grab your, “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons and pretend to be Irish for this one day.

Sources:

  1. Hopper, William. “St. Patrick’s Day for Heathens”.
  2. Huges, Robert. “St. Patrick: The Irish Legend.” [2000].
  3. Skinner, John. “The Confession of Patrick and Letter to Coroticus”, (Image Publishing 1998) p. 2-4