Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day and Irish Heritage

Since 1962, every year the Chicago River is dyed green to kick off Saint Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day celebrates Ireland’s patron saint on his traditional death date, the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and being Irish. In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday, a Catholic holy day of obligation, and feast day.

Saint Patrick’s Day has been celebrated since 466, on the fifth anniversary of Saint Patrick’s death. He was not Irish, but a 5th century British immigrant and missionary credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland in 433. Today the holiday is observed in more countries worldwide than any other national holiday, according to Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair, authors of The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day.

Why do we wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day?

The symbol of Ireland is a shamrock, which is green. Saint Patrick used the shamrock as a metaphor to preach about the Christian Holy Trinity.

Green was the favorite color of the fairy folk or the properly known as the Good People. The Good People were unpredictable and known for stealing people away who wore too much of their favorite color, green, according to Irish folklore.

Wearing green was thought to make one invisible to the Good People or leprechauns. Leprechauns are fabled to pinch anyone they could see, which would be anyone not wearing green. The pinching tradition is American and started in the 1700s, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Where does the phrase “Luck of the Irish” come from?

The phrase is thought to have come from Irish immigrant miners who got rich in the west from gold. The phrase is not Irish in origin, according to historian Edward T. O’Donnell, Ph.D.

Irish Descendants

More than two million Irish people immigrated to the United States between 1845 and 1855, during the potato famine. In the U.S., over forty million people claim Irish descent, according to The Story We Carry in Our Bones: Irish History for Americans. In comparison, Ireland’s population in 2014 was 4.6 million people, according to 150 Things You Didn’t Know About Ireland: A Guide to Irish History and Civilization.

English words from Ireland

–  Galore: a lot or plenty; derived from the word go leor
–  Hooligan: one who takes part in rowdy behavior and vandalism; derived from the Irish family name O’Houlihan
–  Phoney: fake or gilt brass ring used by swindlers; derived from the Irish fainne
–  Slew: large number or great amount; derived from the Irish word sluagh
–  Slogan: a word or metaphorical phrase used by a specific group; derived from sluagh-ghairm meaning “a battle-cry used by Gaelic clans”
–  Whiskey: distilled alcoholic beverage; derived from uisce beatha meaning “water of life”

Sources: 150 Things You Didn’t Know About Ireland: A Guide to Irish History and Civilization and Online Etymology Dictionary