Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here are five quick facts about the patron saint of Ireland

Greg Garrison
al.com (TNS)

Today is March 17, celebrated throughout the world as St. Patrick’s Day, in honor of the missionary who helped spread Christianity through Ireland.

Although it’s now often considered a celebration of Irish pride and an excuse for parades and parties, the holiday owes its origins to an important, historical religious figure.

Here are five quick facts to help you learn about the patron saint of Ireland.

When did he live?

Details surrounding St. Patrick’s life are hard to pin down, but he was likely born around 387 A.D. and died about 460 A.D.

Shamrock-shaped cookies are in plenty at Myers' Salads during UnParade Day at Central Market in downtown York City, Saturday, March 12, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Was he born in Ireland?

No, he was born in Britain, then part of the Roman Empire, and was captured by Irish pirates when he was 16. He was held in captivity in Ireland for six years, then escaped back to Britain.

Was he a priest?

Yes. He went to seminary in what is now France and became a priest, then returned to Ireland. He eventually became the first bishop of Armagh, primate of Ireland. In his autobiography, “Confessio,” also known as “The Confession of St. Patrick,” he said he baptized thousands. He also started many monasteries and helped spread Christianity across Ireland.

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Why do we celebrate him in America?

Irish immigrants to Boston celebrated March 17, the day of St. Patrick’s death, as a way of keeping alive their Irish heritage in America. That started as early as 1737, with parades starting in 1766.

U.S. celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day spread to big cities across the country, often being more festive than observances in Ireland, where it’s a holy day.

St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t even a public holiday in Ireland until 1904, although it had been observed with parades and churchgoing since the 1700s. The festivities in America influenced Ireland, where in the 1960s pubs began to open on the holiday. It has always been associated with beer-drinking in America, promoted by taverns and pubs, while in Ireland pubs and other businesses were closed on the holiday.

“Generations of Irish immigrants were eager to celebrate their origins,” wrote Boston College Professor Mike Cronin, author of “The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick’s Day.”

“The shared sense of being Irish, of wearing green and in some way marking March 17, has resulted in St. Patrick’s Day being observed in a similar fashion to July Fourth or Halloween,” Cronin wrote. “It’s the closest thing in America to National Immigrant Day.”

It’s also a marketing bonanza, helping sell beer and drive business at bars. Bars have been running St. Patrick’s Day events and promotions throughout the weekend leading to the holiday.

Are the legends about St. Patrick true?

Did St. Patrick drive all the snakes out of Ireland? That’s unlikely, since there’s no evidence snakes ever lived in post-glacial Ireland. Did he teach the concept of the Holy Trinity by using the three-leafed clover, or shamrock, to demonstrate the oneness of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit? There’s no way to prove or disprove that legend, but it’s one of the most beloved stories about the saint.