Lesson #93: St. Patrick’s Day

Really? Did you expect something else?

Pretty much everyone knows that St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and that he was actually kidnapped from England by the Irish when he was a kid.* So in honour of his death on this date somewhere around 460, a few facts about Paddy’s Day.

– At the age of 16, St. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken from Britain (an Irish Catholic friend of mine — seriously, he’s got 10 brothers and sisters — swears that he was Welsh, but I can’t find any information to support that) to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. Popular legend holds he shepherded on Mount Slemish in County Antrim**, though the likelihood is that he was held in County Mayo.

– Upon his ordination into the priesthood (back in England), St. Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the local population to Christianity. He was not, however, the first; — though some legends would have you believe it — there were already missionaries in Ireland. Most of his work in Ireland was done in County Antrim.

– The Celtic Cross was created by St. Patrick in an attempt to merge the Irish tradition of the sun as the most powerful symbol with the most powerful symbol in Christianity.

– The shamrock was traditionally a Celtic symbol for rebirth and spring up until the British decided to start seizing Irish land (like they did to a lot of people) at which point the Irish adopted it as a symbol for resistance and national pride.

– The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City, which I actually already knew, but I didn’t know that it took place in 1762 when Irish soldiers serving in the British Army marched through the streets in celebration of St. Patrick.

As a side note: I’m always disproportionately annoyed by the statistic of there being “four times more Irish in America than in Ireland.” Because really, that’s a lie. The Irish government recognizes naturalization for the children and grandchildren of Irish born citizens, so technically, my mother and father (I think? He may be one too many generations removed) could claim heritage. But that doesn’t make them Irish. It means they’re of Irish descent. There are probably also more Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ukranians, Hungarians, Albanians, Swedes, Finns, Danes and Norwegians in America than in their “home” countries too if you want to look at it that way, but no one is running around shouting that statistic. That’s the nature of America (and Canada.) It’s common sense. I’m always annoyed when someone whose great-grandparent or great-great-grandparent says to me “Oh, I’m Irish-American or Italian-American or (and yes, I’m going to say it) African-American.” It’s nice that you’re connecting with your heritage when it’s convenient and all, but you’re no more Irish, Italian or African than I am. I am not Irish-Canadian. I’m Canadian and that’s it. I was born there, my parents were born there and my grandparents (save one) were born there. I have Irish ancestry, but I am not Irish.

More reading here, here and here.

*A historical fact I find funny in its irony.

**The irony of that is funny too. (Also, Mom, that’s where we picked all those wild raspberries.)

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