Here in the US, we think of St. Patrick’s Day as being about wearing green, drinking green beer and eating corned beef, but it’s actually a cultural and religious celebration held on the anniversary of the traditional death date of Ireland’s patron saint. Patrick was born into a Roman-British family in the 5th century, kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During his six years there he found God, who told him to flee to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home. Once home, he became a priest, and then returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity.
An official feast day since the early 17th century, it’s observed by many Christian churches, and it’s an official public holiday in much of the British Empire. Because Lenten restrictions are lifted for the day, drinking alcohol (especially Irish whiskey and beer) became an integral part of the celebration. The color green has long been associated with Ireland, in no small part to the association with the Shamrock that St. Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans. It’s celebrated even where it’s not an official holiday: it’s the most widely celebrated national festival in the world; until recently it was more celebrated outside of Ireland than in it.
But what better way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – and to experience Ireland and it’s culture and history – than with a visit to Ireland? The Parade in Dublin will set the stage for a celebration journey. Explore Dublin by participating in the Festival Treasure Hunt. Stop by the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and a taste. There’s no better place to sip a stout than with a 360 degree view of Dublin.
And Dublin’s not the only location with St.Patrick’s Day festivities. The oldest, in County Wexford near Waterford, began in 1917 and continues to the present. Early risers head to beautiful Dingle where the parade kicks off at 6 am. Cork’s festival goes beyond just a parade, and includes a food and crafts market, music and street performers. And Cork claims to be THE place to be on St. Patrick’s weekend.
While you’re in Ireland, go beyond the parade, and follow the history. Here’s some of the locations around Ireland associated with Saint Patrick.
There are two theories about where he was enslaved. One has him herding sheep near Slemish (see left; a peak in the countryside some 30 miles north of Belfast) ; the other places him near Killala Bay in what was then called Fochill (on the coast west of Sligo, Republic of Ireland).
County Down, about 20 miles south of Belfast, plays a recurrent part in his life. His first church is said to have been founded in Saul, and he is believed to have died there, or at least to have been brought there between his death and burial. After a leisurely walk to the crest of Slieve Patrick, visit the huge statue of Patrick and the bronze panels showing his life. The spectacular views are worth the walk. Finally, he is claimed to be buried in the grounds of nearby Down Cathedral in Downpatrick.
Patrick is believed by many to have fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo for the 40 days of Lent. Pilgrims make a trek to the top on the last Sunday in July, to this day. There’s also pre-christian Celtic fort encircling the summit, discovered by an archaeological excavation.
Armagh (about 40 miles southwest of Belfast) is the primary seat of both the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland (Anglican). It is claimed that Patrick founded a church here and proclaimed it to be the most holy in Ireland. Both cathedrals in this town are named for Patrick.
** Parade photo by GoToVan (https://www.flickr.com/photos/gotovan/25132533464/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons