Irish Legends Debunked

Spotlight Image - Irish Legends Debunked

Catherine Golovin

Written by Journalism Staff Reporter Catherine Golovin

As patches of four-leaf clovers and feisty ginger leprechauns welcome in the month of March, St. Patrick’s Day is on everyone’s mind. While most people associate the holiday with shamrocks and candy in all shades of green, few know the true history behind it. 

Celebrated every year on March 17th, the Irish have observed St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. March 17th stands as a significant date, forever memorializing the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. Born in 5th century Britain to wealthy parents, Patrick was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the mere age of 16. Irish raiders attacking his family’s estate smuggled him to Ireland where he was forced to work tireless years as a shepherd, completely isolated from society. Desperate, lonely, and afraid, he turned to religion for solace and eventually transformed into a devout Christian, praying as many as one hundred times a day. Upon receiving a vision from God telling him to leave Ireland, Patrick finally escaped after more than six years in captivity. To escape, he had to walk nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast. However, after returning to his birthplace in Britain, Patrick experienced a second revelation in the form of a dream; this time, an angel telling him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Patrick began religious training and vigorously trained for over fifteen years until he was ready to spread the word of God. When Patrick returned to his old prison in Ireland and began his mission of converting the people to Christianity, he chose to incorporate Irish culture into his religious teachings. For example, he superimposed a sun (a powerful Irish symbol) onto the Christian cross, which created what is now called a Celtic cross.  

Irish legend says that Saint Patrick used the shamrock as an educational symbol to explain the Holy Trinity. Due to this, the shamrock’s importance was solidified into St. Patrick’s Day’s traditional decorations. After forty long years of teaching, traveling, and working tirelessly to spread his faith, Saint Patrick passed away March 17th, 461 ADS in Saul, where he had built his first church. As Irish immigrants started to populate the United States, so did their celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day. Shamrocks and four-leaf clovers grew more prevalent in decorations, adorned on clothing and hung up in garlands. Green, originally used as a substitution for four-leaf clovers, became the holiday’s main color and remains one of the most popular symbols associated with St. Patrick’s Day today. The symbol of leprechauns and their connection to St. Patrick’s Day is unknown and can only be traced back to the commonality of Irish origin, but they became a fun part of the holiday’s culture, as children look for pots of gold and green buckled hats.  

This Saint Patrick’s Day, as you sip on your shamrock shake from McDonald’s and munch on your Lucky Charms, remember the true history behind the ancient Irish holiday, and the significance of the culture behind it.