Saint Patrick’s Day is two days away, and in the U.S., that can mean dressing in green, having corned beef and cabbage, and drinking green beer. In some cities, the celebration can go over the top to dyeing the river green.
Although the holiday is celebrated with beer today, that was not the case before Irish soldiers and immigrants decided to make March 17 a day to honor their cultural heritage in America. Right at Home spoke with John Doona, who relocated from Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland, to the United States in 1996, about the true St. Patrick’s Day traditions in Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Day Traditions in Ireland
“St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a religious holiday in Ireland,” John explains. “Many families attend church. Children pin green ribbons to their lapels, and adults pin a bunch of ‘shamrock.’ Shamrock is an Irish Gaelic word that means ‘young clover.’ St. Patrick was said to have used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish around A.D. 400.”
Born in Britain, St. Patrick spent years preaching in Ireland and converted thousands of Gaelic Irish to Christianity. March 17 is believed to be the date of his death, and it became the day he is commemorated.
“Since there’s no need for the people in Ireland to emphasize their heritage like Irish Americans do, the green costumes, green beer and other traditions that you see here are not common in Ireland,” John says. Interestingly, some of the American traditions are now exported to Ireland. “Although the weather is often wet and still a little cold in mid-March, there are parades in large towns in Ireland — Dublin’s is the biggest. Many of the marchers and bands in the Irish parades actually come from the U.S.
“St. Paddy’s Day — the Irish don’t say ‘St. Patty’ — is a time for families to get together and celebrate with music, good food and something to wash down the food with,” John explains. “Most families eat what they would on a Sunday, often stewed or roasted meat — particularly lamb — with potatoes and vegetables. Corned beef and cabbage is not traditional in Ireland. Irish prefer brine-cured pork and call it ‘bacon’; it is often cooked with cabbage.”
Enjoy a Fun and Safe St. Patrick’s Day
If beer is part of your St. Patrick’s Day itinerary, make sure to stay hydrated — drink water or soda throughout the day — and eat. Find a designated driver or get Lyft instead of driving yourself home. Or bring the St. Patrick’s Day celebration home and watch the parades from the comfort of your own sofa!
May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go.