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St. Patrick may have worn blue instead of green


If it weren’t for the Irish, we probably wouldn’t have Halloween, and we certainly wouldn’t have St. Patrick’s Day.

Halloween blossomed in the United States after large numbers of Irish immigrants began coming to America during and after the devastating Irish Potato Famine of 1845-52.

St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in the U.S. since at least 1601; which is not surprising, since nearly 11 percent of the American population claims Irish ancestry – about seven times the population of Ireland.

WalletHub personal finance website estimates about $7 billion will be spent on holiday this year, and says the top U.S. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are expected to be held in Boston; Philadelphia; Chicago; Pittsburg; New York; Reno, Nevada; Santa Rosa, California; Naperville, Illinois; Buffalo; and Boise, Idaho. (Visit https://wallethub.com/edu/best-worst-cities-for-st-patricks-day-celebrations/19603/.)

St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland. He was born somewhere in Britain, although the exact dates of his birth and death are unknown. He likely lived during the end of Roman rule in Britain, i.e., the fifth century, although he could have been born as early as 386.

Patrick’s birth name was Maewyn Succat and he may have grown up in Wales. He was brought to Ireland at age 16 as a captive by Irish warriors who had raided the west coast of Britain. He escaped slavery after six years and returned to Britain and entered the clergy. He came back to Ireland as a missionary, possibly in 432.

St. Patrick’s feast day is March 17, which may have been the day he died in 460.

Patrick was never granted sainthood in the Catholic Church – the first papal canonization of a saint outside of Rome likely didn’t take place until almost 1,000 A.D. – but he is venerated as a saint and as “Enlightener of Ireland.”

A popular legend about St. Patrick is that he used the three-leaved shamrock as a way to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. Another legend says he stood on an Irish hillside and banished all snakes from island. (The History Channel says research indicates there were never in Ireland to begin with.)

Green is not only supposed to be worn on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s often the color of beer served that day, and the Chicago River has been dyed green every year since 1962.

The association of the color green with St. Patrick is likely due to Ireland’s nickname: The Emerald Isle. Also, the Irish flag has a green stripe (on the hoist side) that represents Irish Catholics, along with an orange strip that represents Irish Protestants (supporters of William of Orange, 1650-1702, who was the prince of Orange, a feudal state in the south of modern-day France, and was king of England, Scotland and Ireland, 1689-1702) and a white stripe in the middle that symbolizes peace between the two.

However, the Irish flag wasn’t adopted until 1922 and didn’t achieve constitutional status until 1937, so St. Patrick predates it by about 1,400 years. The earliest depictions of St. Patrick apparently show him wearing blue garments rather than green, and when British King George III created an order of chivalry for the Kingdom of Ireland, the Order of St. Patrick, in 1783, its official color was sky blue, known as St. Patrick’s Blue. (Kings Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI were made knights of St. Patrick in 1868. The last Knight of St. Patrick was created in 1936. The last surviving knight was Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who died in 1974.)

Ireland has no official color – the Irish Constitution says only this: “The national flag is the tricolour of green, white and orange.”

The coat of arms of Ireland and the standard of the Irish president are a gold Irish harp on a field of blue.

St. Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland in 1903. That was also the year of the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland. One of the biggest parades outside Irish cities is held in Downpatrick, County Down (about 21 miles south of Belfast), where St. Patrick is said to be buried.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York, which is the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the world, was cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19, the first time it wasn’t held in more than 250 years.