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March 17, the day of the Saint Patrick in Irelandis very symbolic for Irish people around the world. It is thus customary to celebrate all over the world but especially in Ireland, the United States and Canada. A public holiday since 1903 in Ireland, March 17 is the occasion to honor the birthday day of the death of Saint Patrick (385-461), the evangelizer of the green island, and also to welcome spring through parades, songs and dances. This religious day is at the origin of one of the key Irish symbols: the shamrock.
The evangelizer of Ireland
Maewyn Succat better known under the name of Saint Patrick would have been born around 385 in Great Britain, probably in Scotland. He is considered the founder of Irish Christianity and it is in his honor that March 17 is celebrated, the anniversary of his death. Its past is interwoven with history and myths. Saint Patrick was allegedly kidnapped at the age of 16 by pirates and sold as a slave to an Irish druid who made him a shepherd.
According to legend, after meeting God in a dream, he decided to escape to the Normandy coast to study theology and become a priest. He follows the teachings of Saint Germain d'Auxerre and accompanies him in his missions. The latter recommends him to Pope Celestine Ier who subsequently ordered Saint Patrick to evangelize Ireland. He returned there in 432 to convert the Irish kings and then tried to explain to King Aengus the concept of the Holy Trinity (father, son and Holy Spirit) by means of a shamrock (current national symbol). Note that the island was not virgin of any Christian message before its passage due to the earlier arrival of some missionaries from Great Britain and Spain at the end of the 4th century.
According to the myth, it is said that Saint Patrick succeeded in driving out all the snakes of Ireland by killing them in the waves. Ireland, however, has never welcomed snakes. It is more likely to be a metaphor associating reptiles with druids whose pagan beliefs were considered evil. During his quest, Saint Patrick was ordained bishop and had many monasteries erected.
Subsequently, he left for Rome in 444, met the Pope, and returned to Ireland to found his own bishopric: the cathedral of the bishopric of Armagh. After a long period of evangelism, he decided to retire to Downpatrick, Northern Ireland where he died on March 17, 461.
From religious holiday to national holiday
Beyond the festive and commercial event, Saint Patrick's Day is also and above all a holy day when it is customary to go to mass and wear a clover leaf in your buttonhole. It was in the 17th century that the Catholic Church recognized Saint Patrick as a religious holiday. In 1631, Pope Urban VIII declared March 17 the feast day of Saint Patrick and included it in the Christian calendar. This day is held during Lent (40 days of fasting) but it is possible to break the fast on this occasion. The holiday is moved to Monday when it takes place on a Sunday.
It is much later that this day will officially become patriotic and popular. March 17 was declared a holiday in Ireland in 1903 by an act of the British parliament with the Bank Holiday Ireland Act thanks to MP James O'Mara. This money is also at the initiative of a law prohibiting the opening of bars during this day, a law in force until the 1970s. Since the independence of Ireland in 1921 after 700 years of British rule, the festival has become one of the ferments of Irish national identity.
Saint Patrick's festivals and traditions
You should know that the first manifestation of Saint Patrick was not held on Irish soil but in the United States, in Boston in 1737. In Ireland, the first parade took place in 1931. From then on, several large cities organize such as Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway , Derry, Kilkenny, Belfast or even Waterford.
Saint Patrick's Day is also celebrated in Canada, in Montreal, which since 1824 has hosted the largest parade in the country. In Chicago, for more than 40 years the waters of the river have been colored green. That of New York is the biggest celebrated in the world because it gathered in 2006 a parade of 150,000 people followed by 2 million others. The popularity of Saint Patrick's Day in America is the result of the large 19th century Irish emigration caused by famine.
It was in 1995 that the Irish government decided to transform the parade into a five day festival! The first festival in 1996 brought together over 430,000 Irish people. It traditionally consists of parades, fireworks, Irish music and dances. The color green symbol of Spring is de rigueur as well as the wearing of the shamrock, the hat and the leprechaun outfit.
The leprechaun is a little pixie of about thirty centimeters, with a red beard and dressed in green. This name comes from a word of Irish origin "lechorpan" meaning "little man". In Irish folklore, these elves are very small beings, often depicted with a white beard and wearing a hat. They are usually mischievous and mischievous little characters. Legend has it that if one catches one, he is bound to reveal his treasure at the foot of a rainbow ...
- Patrick Mahé, Saint Patrick, Hoëbeke, 2008.
- Pierre Joannon, History of Ireland and the Irish, Tempus, 2009.
- Joseph McCullough, A Pocket History of Ireland, 2010