St Patrick's Day 2017: All the facts about Ireland's Patron Saint

Juliet Eysenck

Erin go bragh! St Patrick's Day is celebrated around the world. But what do we know about the man?

How long until St Patricks Day?

When is St Patrick's Day?

St Patrick's Day is celebrated annually on March 17. The day honours the patron saint of Ireland, but celebrations are held around the world.

Since 1961, St Patrick has also been regarded as a patron saint of Nigeria, a country which is home to around 20 million Catholics.

St Patrick's Day is on March 17 

While many see St Patrick's Day as an excuse to drink endless pints of Guinness while wearing a green wig, there's a little more to it than that.

So who was St Patrick?

St Patrick was a real man who was born in around 385 AD.

Saint Patrick

He may have been named Maewyn Succat, and changed to Patrick when he later became a bishop. He may be thought of as Irish now, but his exact birthplace is unknown.

It was most likely in England, Wales or Scotland. In his teens, he was captured by pirates and taken to Ireland, where he was put to work as a herdsman.

After six years, he managed to escape and possibly fled back to his home. He became a Christian priest before returning to Ireland as a missionary in the mid fifth century.

He spent the next 30 years establishing schools, churches, and monasteries across the country.

Patrick was later appointed as successor to St Palladius, the first bishop of Ireland. He is said to have died on March 17 in the year 461.

The flag of St Patrick is a red saltire on a white background. The association with Ireland's patron saint dates back to the 1780s, when the Order of St Patrick adopted it as an emblem.

Clockwise from top left: Union flag, St George's Cross, St Andrew's Saltire, St Patrick's Saltire

When the 1800 Act of Union (which came into effect from 1 January 1801) joined Great Britain and Ireland, the saltire was added to the British flag to create the Union flag which is still used by the United Kingdom.

The Union flag combines the flags of the St George's Cross, St Andrew's Saltire and St Patrick's Saltire.

Doesn't Ireland have another patron saint?

Yes, Ireland is lucky enough to have three patron saints. In addition to St Patrick, St Bridget and St Columba are patron saints of Ireland. St Bridget's feast day is celebrated on February 1, and St Columba is remembered on June 9, but March 17 is all about St Patrick.

Four myths about St Patrick

Many myths have been told about the figure of St Patrick. In order to determine the truth, we need to see what history can tell us about his life.

Four myths about St Patrick

When is the St Patrick's Day Parade?

St Patrick's Day parades are held in many cities around the world, drawing thousands of people. Last year was particularly poignant as Ireland marked the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a key event in the country’s history.

St Patricks Day around the world, in pictures

This year's London St Patrick's Day Parade will take place on March 19. The The procession will makes its way down Piccadilly from 12pm, on a 1.5-mile route, passing some of London’s most iconic landmarks, including The Ritz, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and onto Whitehall.

It is followed by a St Patrick's Day Festival in Trafalgar Square where revellers can watch St Patrick’s Day performances by West End stars, Irish acts and community choirs, plus a huge céilí on the stage, hosted by Irish stand-up comedian Jarlath Regan.

Festival-goers can then tuck into traditional and modern Irish food from the market, and enjoy special family activities for free. Find out more about the Trafalgar Square St Patrick's Day Festival.

Is St Patrick's Day a public holiday?

March 17 is a national holiday in Ireland, and in Northern Ireland. Although St Patrick is also the patron saint of Nigeria, the African country does not celebrate it as a national holiday.

St Patrick's day is a national holiday on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean.

The island is also known as "the Emerald Isle" in memory of the Irish who settled there in the 17th century after Protestants expelled them from the neighbouring island of St Kitts.

The island of MontserratCredit: Alamy

An official green shamrock is stamped in your passport at the airport, and the national flag shows an Irish harp symbol. St Patrick's Day is also a provincial holiday in the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Large numbers of Irish people emigrated to Newfoundland during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most were involved in the fishery trade.

How is St Patrick's Day celebrated?

Even those who aren't Irish and can't claim any ancestry turn out to celebrate St Patrick.

People watch the annual St. Patrick's Day parade from a roof in BostonCredit: Michael Dwyer/AP

Some people choose to dress up in the colours of the Irish flag  green, white and orange, or as a leprechaun, while others simply enjoy a traditional Irish stew or a pint of the black stuff.

Irish Standard

It is worth noting that blue, not green, is the colour originally associated with St Patrick. “St Patrick’s Blue” is used on Ireland's Presidential Standard or flag (left), while the Irish Guards sport a plume of St Patrick’s blue in their bearskins.

The emphasis on green is thought to be linked to “wearing the Green”, a symbol from the 18th century on, of sympathy with Irish independence.

Until the 1970s, all pubs were shut in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day, the sole venue selling drink being the annual dog show. Lenten fasting – and the obligation to abstain from meat – were lifted on the day, which most families would begin with Mass.

More than 10 million glasses of Guinness stout are enjoyed every single day around the world, and 1,883,200,000 pints are sold every year – that's 1.8 billion. But on St Patrick's Day, that number is much higher.

Well, if it's good enough for Barack O'Bama...Credit: Reuters 

Despite its ostensibly Irish origins, only one of Guinness’ five breweries is situated in Dublin, with the others located in Malaysia, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria, which is the largest Guinness stout market in the world by net sales value, according to its website.

Nigeria accounts for around a fifth of Guinness’ global sales, Euromonitor International data show, and is the stout’s second largest market, behind the UK and ahead of the US and Ireland.

Popular Irish toasts on St Patrick's Day, include: may the roof above us never fall in, and may we friends beneath it never fall out.

Why do people wear green on St Patrick's Day?

Wearing green has now become associated with St Patrick's Day, even though the saint was originally associated with the colour blue. It is thought that the shift happened for several reasons – Ireland's nickname is the 'Emerald Isle', there is green in the Irish flag and the shamrock, Ireland's national symbol, is also green.

How to have a non-clichéd St. Patricks Day

According to Irish tradition, green is the colour of the Catholics and orange is the colour of the Protestants. On the Irish flag, these colours are separated by white, which is symbolic of peace between the two.

Green ribbons and shamrocks are said to have been worn as early as the 17th century.

The Duchess of Cambridge presents shamrocks to Irish Guards during a St Patrick's Day parade at Aldershot BarracksCredit: Getty

According to legend, people wear green to makes themselves invisible to leprechauns, who would pinch anyone they could see (i.e. anyone not wearing green).

Some other St Patrick's Day celebrations

In Chicago, thousands of people turn out to see the river being turned green, as part of a tradition that dates back to 1962.

The colouring process takes five hours and involves a mix of forty pounds of powdered green vegetable dye being tipped overboard a boat.

The river Vilnele in Vilnius, Lithuania is dyed green to celebrate St Patrick's DayCredit: Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

Other countries show their support by turning buildings green for the day, including the London Eye and HMS Belfast in London, Trinity College in Dublin, the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Egypt, Sydney Opera House in Australia, Burj Al Arab in Dubai and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

The Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janiero (seen here with the Archbishop of Rio Dom Orani Joao Tempesta and Northern Ireland's former First Minister Martin McGuinness)Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

Some of the Emerald Isle's most breathtaking sights

Images of Ireland that will make you want to go there right now

The best Irish recipes

Why not whip up an Irish stew or traditional bread for St Patrick's Day? Here are some the best Irish recipes to make on March 17.

Delicious Irish recipes

The best Irish drinks

Aside from Guinness, Ireland is also famous for its whiskey, poitin, stout, gin and Irish cream liqueur.

Here's a mixed bag to slake your thirst on March 17th.

St Patricks Day drinks

Or try this recipe for a 'Shamrock Shake'.


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