IRELAND — St Patrick’s Day is coming soon. So let’s take a look back at the life, times, facts and legends surrounding oulde St Paddy. Perhaps we should begin with one of the most famous of these. There are indeed a great many legends surrounding St Patrick, the patron saint of Eire, the Republic of Ireland. Arguably, the most familiar one holds him responsible for ridding the country of its snakes.
St Patrick tells the snakes to take a hike
Wikipedia says “the earliest text to mention an Irish saint banishing snakes from Ireland is in fact the Life of Saint Columba (chapter 3.23), written in the late seventh or early eighth century.” But it wasn’t until the 13th century that we possessed any written account of Patrick driving away Ireland’s venomous reptiles. It was then that Gerald of Wales expressed skepticism about the veracity of the folklore surrounding St Patrck’s legendary feat.
Even so, the most familiar version of the legend comes from Jocelyn of Furness. Jocelyn says that the snakes were banished when Patrick chased them into the sea. That definitive action occurred after snakes attacked him as he carried on a 40-day fast on top of a hill.
In reality, evidence shows that Ireland probably never had any snakes at all. Most likely, the slithering creatures served as a metaphor for the Druids, an ancient, pagan priesthood. The Irish say Patrick drove them out of Ireland when he established Christianity there.
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day today
Whatever the truth of the matter may be matters little to the Irish today. They have celebrated March 17, believed by many to be the day of St Patrick’s death, as a religious holiday for more than a thousand years. So popular has the tradition become that the holiday has now expanded into the secular world as a robust international celebration of Irish culture and heritage.
Perhaps the biggest celebrations in the US occurs in New York City. The highlight of this celebration involves a massive parade. It begins at 11 am on 44th Street, and proceeds to march up Fifth Avenue past St Patrick’s Cathedral, of course. The celebration concludes around 5:00 p.m. at the American Irish Historical Society at East 80th Street.
But what about Savannah, Georgia?
Oddly enough, the second largest St Patrick’s Day Parade in the world, drawing more than half a million spectators, takes place in Savannah, GA. In fact, historians recognize Savannah as the first city in the United States to hold a public observance of the “wearing of the green.” The event traces its roots back 196 years, to 1824.
At that time, the Hibernian Society published a notice on March 16th in the local paper, The Georgian. They invited citizens of Savannah to join them for a discourse at the Roman Catholic Church on the Feast of St Patrick the following day. The rest is history.
Which leads to the most obvious question. US facsimiles of St Patrick’s Day are great. But why not experience shamrocks and green beer in the place where it all began: Ireland itself?
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, the country where it all began
As we might expect, Dublin attracts the most attention and largest crowds on St Patrick’s Day. But if you venture out from the Irish capital, you quickly find a plethora of celebrations in virtually every village, town and city in the country. Some of the festivities last for days at a time. During each celebration, wherever it occurs, where visitors have the opportunity to celebrate in style with locals in one of the friendliest countries on the planet.
Ireland’s second city, Cork, stages a four day festival this year from March 14 to 17. The festival culminates in a vibrant St Patrick’s Day parade. The colorful cavalcade will feature up to 3,000 people including sporting groups, dance schools, the city’s long-established brass bands and special guests from around the world.
Cork is well-known year-round for its lively nightlife. But during the upcoming festival, the city plans to overflow with music, as the Lee Sessions bring masters of traditional music to pubs throughout Cork.
And what about Northern Ireland?
Belfast, Northern Ireland (still part of the UK), marks St Paddy’s Day with a vibrant carnival parade and a free open-air concert on March 17. The streets will be awash in color (especially green). Even better, the joyful noise will increase as the parade snakes (oops, check that – better to say “winds” in this case) its way through the city center from Belfast City Hall to Writer’s Square.
In Armagh, where Patrick began his Christian mission and established the city as the spiritual capital of Ireland, the annual Home of St Patrick Festival promises another exciting program of culture, music and spirituality. From March 6th to 17th, Armagh will feature a superb mix of local and international music, theater, spoken word, art and comedy emphasizing the locations where Patrick walked, worked and lived.
No trip to St Patrick’s Day in Ireland would be complete without a visit to the national grave of St Patrick in Downpatrick, County Down. The town is also home to the St Patrick Centre. It’s the only permanent exhibition in the world about Ireland’s patron saint. Visit as well as Down Cathedral and many other religious sites and cultural attractions associated with the great man. And don’t miss the parade, where a cavalcade of floats, bands and color will be a sight to behold.
Limerick. It’s not just for humorous poetry anymore.
Elsewhere, historic Limerick, which flanks the Shannon Estuary, will host a four-day festival filled with fun, fireworks and plenty of fancy dress.
On Sunday, the 15th of March, the 50th Limerick International Band Championship strikes up in the streets of the city. Over 1,300 marching band musicians from across Ireland, Europe and America plan to compete for the coveted winners’ cup. The grand parade, with its theme of “Our Future is Green,” celebrating the city’s designation as a European Green Leaf City for 2020, will wend its way through the city’s streets.
Killarney, Sligo and beyond…
Killarney, on the spectacular Ring of Kerry, celebrates St Patrick’s Day with an extravagant four-day festival. The city promises street céilís (traditional dancing and Gaelic music), treasure hunts, greening of buildings, a grand parade and fun for the entire family.
Finally, St Patrick himself will perform the miraculous feat of leading parades all over the island of Ireland, including Sligo, celebrating 50 years of parades in 2020. Or so we are told.
In a closing bit of trivia, the “Emerald Isle” looks like this when you see it on a map:
However, after too many pints of St Pat’s green beer, if you turn the map 90-degrees counterclockwise it may take on the appearance of a little green terrier:
But a word of advice. If such a phenomenon occurs, it is best to seek out the “hair of the dog.”
Erin go bragh!
— Headline image: Distant view of St Patrick’s mountain, Croagh Patrick, as seen from just outside Westport,
Republic of Ireland. GNU 1.2 license.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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