There are the things everyone knows about St. Patrick’s day. Iconic images and actions that comes to mind when you think about it: the color green. Shamrocks. Irish. Leprechauns. Rainbows. There is a parade. Something about St. Patrick kicking all the snakes out of Ireland. Green beer. Drinking. Drinking too much.
And then there are the reasons behind these things, that we don’t think about much if at all, because, well, because celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is so much fun.
So in the spirit of celebration, here are five little known facts about the holiday that might make your day a little more meaningful.
What is the story with Shamrocks?
This one is simple. St. Patrick, spreading the Catholic faith to villages and farms far and wide, used a handy tool. The always-around clover, and its three leaves, helped him explain the idea of the Holy Trinity.
Saint Patrick’s color was blue, not green, say historians. St. Patrick’s blue was on ancient Irish flags.
But green as a St. Patrick’s Day color dates to the 1798 Irish Rebellion- which also popularized the clover as a symbol of nationalism. Supporters would “wear the green” on their lapels, and soldier’s began wearing green uniforms. Soon use of the color spread as far and wide as the green hills of the island.
Why March 17?
St. Patrick died, most sources say, sometime around 490, on March 17. The date is his designated feast day, in the Catholic strain of the Christian religion. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, theologian Luke Wadding started the tradition: “Each year Wadding kept the Feast of St. Patrick with great solemnity, and it is due to his influence … that the festival of Ireland’s Apostle was inserted on 17 March in the calendar of the Universal Church.”
For decades, Irish bars were closed on St. Patrick’s Day. Yup.
It officially became a holiday in Ireland in 1903, but it was the 1962 before anyone could celebrate over a pint in a pub. The very Catholic country’s leaders worried about that excessive celebration during lent might be a little uncouth, so they passed a law that forced pubs closed on March 17. The rather unpopular law was repealed in 1961.
Why do they call it the luck of the Irish?
Origins of the phrase are muddy, ultimately, but it does seem pretty clear that it was not exactly meant as a compliment. Maybe more like a little dark humor by the long-suffering history of Irish people, from the potato famine to religious persecution to extreme prejudice from Americans towards immigrants from the Emerald Isle.
From an Irish scholar posting on Answers.com:
“It is an ironic phrase. The Irish have been, and are a spectacularly unlucky race. The “luck of the Irish” is BAD luck, as any reading of Irish history will document. When I did my Master’s thesis on Irish references in the American language, I found the original and proper use of this irony goes clear back to the Old Country and migrated to America early on. Nowadays many speakers and writers — even the supposedly erudite ones — misuse the phrase to imply GOOD luck. Let these misinformed (and misinforming) folks eat only potatoes for a few decades — if any potatoes can grow in their fields.”
Some sources trace the origin back to the American gold rush. Supposedly, a large number of Irishmen struck gold out West, thus “luck of the Irish.” This has the feel of myth made to explain the phrase, though, more than of historical fact.
What about Fighting Irish?
Fighting Irish traces back to the Civil War. It was what the members of a Union infantry brigade made up of all Irish immigrants called themselves. The brigade official title “The Irish Brigade” and consisted of 69th NY, 63rd NY, 88th NY, 116th Pennsylvania, and 28th Mass. Infantry Regiments, but was dubbed “The Fighting Irish” by regiment members shortly after it’s formation