All ye lads 'n' lassies already know St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Ye even know the beloved Irish saint was once a slave who later introduced Christianity there. Just as there are three petals that make up the green clover plant we know as a shamrock, he explained about the Trinity to the island natives, there are three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in one God.

And ye’ve all heard the legend of how he drove the snakes from Ireland. I wrote "legend" rather than fact because there are many who question if there ever were snakes on the green isle. 

But did ye know St. Patrick was never Irish? Where he was born is not recorded, but we do know it was not on the Emerald Isle. Regardless, records show the good saint did live in Britain during the fifth century when it was ruled by the Roman Empire.

As a 16 year old he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland for the first time as a slave. Later, he managed to escape, but he never forgot his horrible experience in Ireland as owned property.

In time, he became a monk and offered to return to Ireland to convert the people. It is believed that he died on March 17, 461 AD. Since then, the mythology of his life has become such an indelible part of the Irish culture, that the faithful have observed this day as a religious holiday since the late ninth or early tenth century.

Typically, it fell during the Christian season of Lent when the abstinence of eating meat was imposed. But those dietary restrictions were waived, and after attending morning church, the faithful celebrated by dancing and feasting on the traditional Irish meal of cabbage and bacon.

And did ye know that St. Patrick’s Day parades never began in Ireland, but instead in America? That’s right The first in the colonies was held on March 17, 1762, when Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military paraded through New York City. They were able to reconnect with their music, Irish roots, and with fellow Irish soldiers. Irish patriotism among immigrants quickly flourished and encouraged the rise of the so-called "Irish Aid" societies such as the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group held parades with bagpipes and drums.

In 1848, Irish parades merged to form one New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Today, that parade is the largest in the United States. Each year Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Savannah celebrate the day with parades, too, each involving thousands upon thousands of participants.

As Irish immigrants spread across the United States, more cities developed their own traditions. Savannah, Ga., has the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the nation. It dates back to 1813. While Chicagoans dye the Chicago River green, some in Savannah claim they were the first.

Chicago’s strange practice began in 1962. Pollution-control workers used green dye to trace illegal sewage discharges in the river and realized it might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. They released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye; enough to keep the river green for a week. Today, in order to minimize environmental damage, just 40 pounds of dye are used, allowing the river to turn green only for several hours.

Although North America is home to the largest celebrations, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in locations far from Ireland, including Japan, Singapore and Russia. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally a religious occasion.

Up until the 1970s, Irish laws made pubs close on March 17. In 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign using St. Patrick’s Day to promote Irish tourism and culture worldwide. Today, a million people participate in Dublin’s annual St. Patrick’s Festival, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, theater productions and fireworks.

Comments may be emailed to: