How to be Authentically Irish on St Patrick's Day


March 17th is fast approaching. A day when a sea of green can be found in many pubs around the world, when Guinness and Irish Cream are the drinks of choice, and thousands of people line the streets to watch a parade and celebrate the Patron Saint of Ireland. In order to properly celebrate the Saint and his achievements in Ireland, one must first know a little bit of history about Saint Patrick and how Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated around the world.

Saint Patrick's real name was not Patrick and he was not from Ireland. Maewyn Succate, as his real name is believed to be, was actually born in a village called Bannavem Taberniae that is believed to have been on the south-western shore of Great Britain. As a teenager he was captured and forced into slavery, but eventually escaped. He became a Bishop in 432. St. Patrick succeeded in converting Ireland from Paganism to Christianity by speaking Irish Gaelic, understanding Pagan rituals and relating them to Christian beliefs. Two of the greatest myths about him are that he used the pagan symbol of the Shamrock to explain the Christian belief of the Holy Trinity, and that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. There is no evidence in his writings to support the shamrock story and scientists are sure that there never were any snakes in Ireland. The snake myth was likely due to symbolism, as serpents were associated with the Pagans.

Saint Patrick died March 17th, 461 at the age of 76. Before his death, he asked that his body be put on a cart drawn by two oxen and wherever they stopped was where he should be buried. His wishes were followed and his remains were buried where the oxen stopped, on Cathedral Hill in Downpatrick County Down, North Ireland.

The day of his death, March 17, became the day to celebrate the Saint in Ireland and across the globe. As people emigrated from Ireland, they took the celebration with them. Over 70 million people worldwide claim some Irish ancestry. A large group of these people live in Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. Whether claiming to have Irish ancestry, or just wanting to take part in the festivities, here are a few things to do this March 17th to be Authentically Irish.

Originally a religious holiday, Saint Patrick's Day became a public holiday in 1903. It remains a religious day of observance in Ireland for the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church. The first Saint Patrick's Day parade that was held in the Irish Free State was in Dublin in 1931. By the 1990's the Irish government began to use the day to promote Ireland and its culture. Most Irish cities have a parade with the biggest held in Dublin followed by the second biggest in Downpatrick where Saint Patrick is believed to be buried. Great Britain celebrates the day with parades and festivals as well. Birmingham holds the largest parade in Britain. It is the third largest in the world after Dublin and New York. London, Manchester, and Liverpool also hold large celebrations. The Queen Mother used to present sprigs of shamrock flown in from Ireland to the Irish Guards. They still wear them to this day. Saint Patrick's Day has become an unofficial holiday in Canada and the US. In Canada, the largest parade is held in Montreal. They have occurred there every year since 1824, but people have been celebrating the Saint there since 1759. Many other provinces also hold Saint Patrick's Day parades and festivals. The first parade in New York City occurred in 1762. With few exceptions, the parade has been held there every year since 1766. The New York Parade is the largest in the world. Take part in the celebrations, whatever the location!

Canada is known for its hockey. From 1919-27 the Toronto Maple Leafs were known as the Toronto St. Patrick's and they wore green jerseys. In 1999 the Leafs had a game on March 17th and wore green retro jerseys. The Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto Raptors also don green uniforms for Saint Patrick's Day.

Referred to as the Emerald Isle, Ireland is known for its green scenery and the color green has become associated with the country. Many people outside of Ireland will be wearing green on Saint Patrick's Day. Everything from green shirts and hats to novelty hats, necklaces, glasses, and more. Some only wear green in fear of being pinched if they don't! There are some cities that even paint their streets or dye their rivers green. As early as the 17th century, people wore green ribbons and shamrocks in celebration of St Patrick's Day. However, the only green worn in Ireland on March 17th is a sprig of shamrock on their lapel. The color green is connected to the old flag and a time when Ireland was not free. Some people also believed that it was unlucky to wear green as it was the color of the "Good People", another name for fairies. Anyone who wore too much green, especially children, would be taken away. Despite the popularity of the color green, the color associated with Saint Patrick is actually blue.

To dress for the occasion, Guinness shirts, bottle opener hats, accessories, and barware items are available to gear up for Saint Patrick's Day. Consider traditional Irish tartan scarves, sashes, or kilts. If looking for a cheaper version, try a green instakilt. Irish jewellery is also a great expression of authenticity. Irish pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings, and more can add an Irish touch. Choose the Irish Claddagh symbol of love, loyalty and friendship or maybe something with Celtic knotwork. There are also History of Ireland rings which feature various symbols representing different phases in Irish history. Celtic Crosses are another symbol associated with Saint Patrick, as he is said to have combined the sun symbol of the druids with the cross of the Christians forming the Celtic Cross.

Saint Patrick's Day has become a time to party, sing, and dance. The Irish are known for their love of music. Many great musical acts have come from Ireland: Thin Lizzy, the Cranberries, U2, Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor, and the Corrs, to name a few. Several pubs bring in Traditional Irish musicians to perform traditional and classic tunes like "When Irish Eyes are Smiling", "Danny Boy", "Whisky in the Jar", "My Wild Irish Rose" and more. Doing an Irish Jig or performing a Riverdance impression are acceptable moves! Of course the best places to sing and dance on this day are in an authentic Irish Pub. If planning a St Patrick's Party at home instead of heading out to a pub, there are many Irish CDs available to enhance the home atmosphere.

Along with the singing and dancing often comes drinking. Since it was originally a religious holiday, pubs were required to be closed for the day. This was changed in the 1970s. Some of the most popular drinks for Saint Patrick's Day are Guinness, Kilkenny and Bailey's. All Guinness sold in the UK, Ireland, and North America is brewed at St. James Gate in Dublin. Over 10 million glasses of Guinness are enjoyed everyday and is sold in 150 countries around the world. In 2006, more Guinness was sold in Canada than in Ireland on St Patrick's Day. There are several different brands of Irish Cream, the most popular being Bailey's. It was introduced in 1974 and was the first Irish Cream on the market.

Consider some traditional Irish food. Start the day out with traditional Irish Breakfast consisting of fried bacon, egg, sausage, black and white pudding, fried tomato and fried potato farls. For those who have not yet tried it, black pudding is blood pudding. White pudding is pork fat, suet bread, and oatmeal formed into the shape of a sausage. Wash it all down with a nice cup of Irish tea. The most popular brands are Barry's, Lyons', and Bewley's. Of course, the potato is the basis for many Irish dishes. Introduced in the mid 16th century, it became the main food group of the poor. As a great source of vitamins and minerals, it managed to keep basic nutrition in a time when other crops were not available. Extreme cold and potato blight caused some of the Great Irish Famines that wiped out a million people and forced millions of others to leave the country. Some of the most popular Irish potato dishes are Colcannon, Champ and Boxty. Colcannon is mashed potatoes with garlic mixed with cabbage or kale. Champ is mashed potatoes mixed with spring onions or scallions. Boxty mixes finely grated raw potatoes with mashed potatoes, then adds flour, baking soda, buttermilk and egg and fries it on a griddle like a pancake. One of the most popular Irish dishes is Bacon and Cabbage. There was a time when many Irish immigrants couldn't afford back bacon, so they used corned beef as a substitute. Corned Beef and Cabbage is now a common dish. Seafood is also a popular Irish dish. Salmon and Cod are the most common fish, but prawns and oysters are also popular. Try a Dublin Lawyer- lobster cooked in whisky and cream. Livestock was also important to the Irish. Irish stew features lamb or mutton mixed with root vegetables. Coddle is a similar dish with pork sausages boiled in stock with potatoes and onions. If you're a little more adventurous, maybe you'd be interested in Crubeens or Drisheen. Crubeens are salted pigs feet boiled and served with cabbage. Drisheen is cow/sheep/pig's blood mixed with milk, salt, fat, and breadcrumbs. They are boiled and cooked in an intestine. Follow them up with soda bread, wheaten bread, soda farls, coffee cake, or scones. Enjoy!

In order to be really authentically Irish, one should need to know at least a few Irish phrases. Although saying things like "Top of the Morning" and "Kiss me I'm Irish" will work, it would be more impressive to say Irish phrases in Irish Gaelic. Although pronunciation is different for different parts of Ireland, these phrases will work in the local pub. The first phrase to know is Happy Saint Patrick's Day! In Irish, this phrase is La fheile Padraig sona duit" (pronounced law ae-leh paw-rig so-nuh dwitch). In the pub, order a pint of Guinness by saying Pionta Guinness, le do thoil (pronounced pyunta Guinness leh duh hull), or for whisky drinkers, try "uisce beatha" (pronounced ish-ka ba-ha). Be sure to know how to say Cheers in Irish Gaelic, "Slainte" (pronounced slaan-cheh)!

So this March 17th, have an Irish Breakfast, wear a green Guinness shirt, check out the local Saint Patrick's Day parade, have an Irish lunch, hop onto a cart drawn by oxen and go to whatever pub they stop at (or just hop in a cab and go to an Irish pub), listen to some Irish music, have some Irish drinks, and most importantly have a great time celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland. Happy Saint Patrick's Day! Slainte!

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