Everybody knows that St. Patrick’s Day (SPD) and Ireland go hand in hand, but many people do not know exactly why. St. Patrick is best known for introducing the nation to Catholicism in the late 5th century, which is the primary reason he is honored each year. Many generations later, 84% of Ireland's citizens identify as Catholic, and so they remember in gratitude the man who brought this religion to their ancestors, which has helped to shape Irish culture. However, St. Patrick and Christianity played another role in Ireland’s great history, beyond their well known impact upon Irish cultural and religious traditions.
It was because of this faith, adopted by most Irishmen since Patrick, that several monasteries were formed in Ireland during the 6th century. These Irish monasteries became centers for studying theology and philosophy, and it was the influence of the Irish monks that helped the country to move away from its history of Gaelic folklore and Druid superstition. After transforming Ireland through higher education in the monasteries, the monks spread their study of philosophy across Europe through the work of missionary monks such as Columbkille. The Irish missionaries founded new monasteries across Europe, spreading higher learning to the continent. The formation of these monasteries was integral in forming Western Culture as we understand it today. Because St. Patrick was the "first mover" in the foundation and spread of Irish learning in monasteries, he is still celebrated by the Irish people around the world.
Speaking of celebrations across the world, did you know that they vary greatly in style? In Ireland, it is still extremely religious, and from 1924 to the early 1960s Irish law mandated that all pubs close in honor of the feast day. This was a result of prohibitionists who lobbied to make the day a sober celebration, focusing on the Catholic aspects of the holiday. Parts of Ireland still carry elements of this sobriety in their St. Paddy’s celebrations, but the major cities like Dublin are typically closer to the alcohol-centered festivities we see in America.
America has several large St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations, largely brought here by immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, some cities, like New York and Philadelphia, have had parades since before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. New York’s parade started in 1762, and is the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S., and one of the oldest civilian parades in the world! New York City also boasts the largest attendance of SPD parades in America, which is not surprising considering NYC also boasts the largest population in the U.S.
This year in Cleveland, we’re celebrating the 175th anniversary of our St. Paddy’s Day parade, which is one of the oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. It was only in recent years that the parade committee discovered that the parade was actually founded in 1842, rather than 1867 as originally believed. However, the parade that now draws crowds of 500,000 was not always so grand:
"The very first Parade that we know about in Cleveland was organized in 1842 by the city’s third resident Catholic priest, Rev. Peter McLaughlin. Fr. McLaughlin was a proponent of “temperance,” or abstinence from alcohol, and his St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats—the only Catholic church in Cleveland’s city limits at that time—continued with a Parade of the Catholic Temperance Society, and concluded with a banquet attended by friends and family members." (source)
Most cities, such as New York, move their parades to a Saturday if the 17th falls on a Sunday, or cities like Chicago always host the parade the weekend before St. Patrick's Day. Cleveland has consistently scheduled its parade on March 17th, regardless of the day of the week; it is the oldest parade in America to do so. Today it has evolved from the small church group it once was, to one of the top 10 St. Paddy’s Day celebrations in the U.S. Here’s a guide to learn about some of the others.
After all this talk about celebrating the big day, you’re probably ready to get in the mood, and we couldn’t agree more. That’s why we’ve curated a list of St. Patrick’s Day references in pop culture to help you celebrate St. Patrick in 2017.
What could be better than a little comedy to guarantee your St. Patrick’s Day is full of cheer this year (well–for those of our readers who aren’t 21)? How about comedy delivered in an Irish accent! That’s why our What's So Funny! recommendation is this clip by Irish comic, Hal Roach, to help you kick off your celebrations:
Hal Roach opens by explaining why Irish humor is universally appreciated, and he credits it with Irish humility (am I the only one who sees the irony here?). The ability of the Irish to laugh at and and make fun of themselves makes Irish humor lovable around the world. As someone who grew up in an Irish-American family of nine, I can definitely attest to the self-deprecating humor, but I’m also aware of the many good-humored jabs we like to throw at others. In Hal Roach’s clip, we see both sides of Irish comedy, as he pokes fun at the Irish and anyone else he can!
Another great medium for finding Irish entertainment is film. We’re giving you our top three picks for Irish movies this year–the first of which is an absolute staple in every Irish household. My family watched The Quiet Man at least every March as I was growing up. Director, John Ford cast John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in this 1957 film, set in Ireland. The movie has everything a good Irish film should: fighting, church rivalry, song, romance, and moral struggle.
The next film we would recommend is Leap Year, which tells the story of an American woman who travels to Ireland. She believes in an old Irish superstition (which the Irish characters treat with skepticism) that says it is traditional for women to propose to their boyfriends on Leap Day. Played by Amy Adams, she is both adorable and charming alongside Matthew Goode. Although pretty strongly categorized as a “chick-flick,” the wit and beautiful cinematography of the Irish countryside make this a great film for anyone interested in Ireland. This one, like The Quiet Man, is family friendly.
The final movie on our list is Brooklyn, the tale of an Irish woman who immigrates to America in the early 20th century. For people interested in this time period, the movie is a great way to learn about the struggles faced by Irish immigrants. Saoirse Ronan, an Irish woman, brilliantly portrays the emotional plight of young, Eilis. Her heart is torn between America and Ireland and the people of both nations. Our GREENLIGHTReviews podcast further examines this 2015 film: