Little known facts about St. Patrick’s Day
A deeper look at the beloved Irish holiday
With about one-quarter of Canadians (4.5 million) who have some degree of Irish roots, it’s no wonder we embrace celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
With the pandemic still in place, people who wish to celebrate the Irish holiday may be out of luck. However, since we can’t go out, let’s take a closer look at common beliefs and traditions to separate fact from fiction.
For example, St. Patrick’s Day was not always associated with the colour green. Originally, the official colour identified with St. Patrick was sky blue. George III created the Order of St. Patrick, which was a new order of chivalry for Ireland. The colour was known as “St. Patrick’s Blue.” According to early Irish mythology, a woman wearing a blue robe often represented the Irish sovereignty.
According to the History channel, the colour green became associated with St. Patrick’s Day in the 18th century when Irish independence supporters chose to use the colour to represent their cause.
Leprechauns are depicted as only male. According to Fairy Legends and Traditions from the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker (published in 1825), there are no such things as female leprechauns. Some people think that leprechauns live forever, so they don’t need to worry about procreation.
In the Old Irish language, leprechaun translates to “small body.” They were believed to live in Ancient Ireland’s fairy rings and houses. Others have argued that female leprechauns lured men away from their homes with adventure. Over the years, the female leprechauns have disappeared.
Leprechauns are also shoemakers by trade. According to folklore, a person can track leprechauns by listening for tinkering sounds – meaning they are working away on shoes in their workshops.
According to Legends and Stories of Ireland from 1831, leprechauns were outfitted in a red “square-cut coat, richly laced with gold and a cocket hat.”
Why are they often dressed in green, then? Some people joke that the leprechauns chose green to better match the shamrocks. According to Oprah magazine, the colour change was due to a famous William Allingham poem called “The Leprechaun,” which depicts the main character as wearing green.
Speaking of wearing green, the reason why people wear green clothing is to avoid being pinched. According to St. Patrick’s lore, those who don’t wear green garments risk being pinched, as leprechauns liked playing pranks and pinching.
Legend says that these leprechauns keep a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They are extremely mischievous. If one is captured, the lucky person would theoretically have three wishes granted. Initially, leprechauns weren’t consumed with accumulating gold. According to one legend, when the Danes invaded Ireland, they trusted the plunder with leprechauns, who didn’t seem they could be trusted. In the end, the leprechauns hid the pots of gold throughout Ireland.
What about four-leaf clovers?
If someone carried a four-leaf clover, that person supposedly would be able to see fairies, identify witches and potential evil spirits, and be protected from the evil eye. Each of the four leaves stands for faith, hope, and luck. According to the Daily Telegraph, St. Patrick explained the clover represented the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Grace of God. The oldest reference to the four-leaf clover was when Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. Eve supposedly wanted to remember paradise, so she took a four-leaf clover.
There are reportedly 236 leprechauns left in Ireland, and they live in Carlingford County Louth. According to the Irish Post, in 1989, P. J. O’Hare claimed to find a leprechaun’s remains: a small suit, and four gold coins in that county. The skeleton disintegrated to dust, but O’Hare kept the clothes and displayed them in his pub. Since 2009, the European Directive protects leprechauns. Every year, there is a so-called Leprechaun Hunt.
Kevin ‘McCoillte’ Woods, also known as Ireland’s last leprechaun whisperer, was determined to find evidence to prove these mythical creatures existed. He led the annual hunt for leprechauns every May.
Portland, Oregon, is another official leprechaun colony. Journalist Dick Fagan supposedly noticed a hole dug up in concrete by a leprechaun. In his column, he wrote about the “world’s smallest park” in Mill Ends Park in 1948. In 1976 on St. Patrick’s Day, Mill Ends Park was designated an official park.
Initially, St. Patrick’s Day was only observed in Ireland as a Roman Catholic feast. Those who kept the holiday would pray at church or at home. The Irish American immigrants secularized the occasion by starting the traditions of holding parades and drinking beer to celebrate.
According to Global News, Saskatoon was the birthplace of green beer. Jay Beavis, the part-owner of O’Shea’s Irish Pub, claimed his grandfather, Ford Beavis, managed the Baldwin Hotel between the 1940s and 1960s. The hotel’s beverage room, formerly named the Shamrock Room, was supposedly the first bar to carry green beer.
According to vox.com, as early as 1914, Professor Thomas H. Curtin was among the first to mix beer and blue food colouring to create a green beer for his New York clubhouse.
And if beer isn’t your thing, there are cocktails made with whiskey and Bailey’s or non-alcoholic alternatives like shamrock shakes.
Montreal hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Canada in 1824. According to National Geographic, it is rated among the top three parades in the world for this holiday. Between 250,000 to 700,000 people come to watch the three-hour parade featuring hundreds of performers, marching bands, and floats.
In 1760, Boston hosted the first parade in America, according to Time magazine. New York and Chicago soon joined in the festivities. Chicago is known for dying its river green to mark the occasion.