I bid you a Céad Míle Fáilte, Mná and Fir…or, for you non-Irish folk, “A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, Ladies and Gents!”
On March 17th each year, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day became their only national holiday in 1903. It has always been a Holy day and usually celebrated starting with attending church to pay respect to Ireland’s patron saint. During these recent years, the day has become more cultural and consists of many parades and celebrations. Though it falls during the Christian season of Lent, prohibitions against the consumption of alcohol and meat were waived by the church so people could drink and feast…on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage. The consumption of corned beef and cabbage by the Irish didn’t start until they migrated to the United States! Many celebrations also include an Irish breakfast of sausage, fried eggs, fried tomatoes, and black and white pudding.
This may come as a surprise, but up until the 1970s Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on St. Patrick’s Day. Since the mid-1990s, the Irish government established a national campaign to use the new found interest in St. Patrick’s Day to drive tourism and showcase Ireland and Irish culture to the rest of the world. Today, approximately one million people annually take part in Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions and fireworks shows. The Irish are very proud of their country, throughout the land you can hear “Éirinn Go Brách” (Ireland Forever)!
In the United States, it’s a day for “wearing of the green,” parades, Irish dancing, and partaking of fine Irish cuisine. While it is not a U.S. government holiday, many places go all out to celebrate. I’m sure you’ve seen how Chicago, Illinois colors the Chicago River green (the practice started in 1962), even the White House fountain is also dyed green, and the top of the Empire State building in New York is lit with green lights. Did you know that many of the Irish immigrants worked on the construction of the Empire State building when it started on St. Patrick’s Day in 1930? Though Irish people were responsible for throwing the first-ever documented St. Patrick’s Day parade, did you know it wasn’t held in Ireland? The first parade was actually in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737 (organized by the Charitable Irish Society of Boston) and New York City held their first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1762 (started by a group of Irish soldiers in the British military; a true marchers parade as it doesn’t allow floats, automobiles or other commercial aspects). In 1848, several New York City Irish Aid societies decided to unite their parades to form one official St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the world’s oldest civilian parade and the largest in the United States, drawing more than one million spectators. Besides parades in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Savannah, now there are parades and celebrations in many cities throughout the United States. Annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for a slew of political candidates. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman attended New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, a proud moment for the many Irish-Americans.
So you see, Irish-Americans and the United States are credited with turning St. Patrick’s Day into the great cultural phenomenon it is known for today. Of course, smaller ways of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day throughout the United States include: pubs and bars serve green beer and have plenty of Irish Whisky on hand; many eateries have green-colored food items and some serve either Irish stew or corned beef and cabbage with a side of Irish soda bread; people, whether Irish or not, wear green in celebration of or in fear of being pinched; and homes, offices, schools, and stores decorate using shamrocks, leprechauns, pots of gold, and the “Tri-Color” (Ireland’s national flag). On this day, though not a typical saying in Ireland, people usually greet one another with “Top ‘O the Morning!”
No matter if you’re full Irish or just a wee-bit, may your day be touched with a bit of Irish luck! Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day or as they say in Ireland Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh (St. Patrick’s Day blessing upon you)!
Irish blessing: “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields, and, until we meet again…may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
© By Kathleen R. McKissick