A brief his­tory of St Pa­trick’s Day

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Saint Pa­trick’s feast day, as a kind of na­tional day, was al­ready be­ing cel­e­brated by the Ir­ish in Europe in the ninth and tenth cen­turies. In later times he be­came more and more widely known as the pa­tron of Ire­land. Saint Pa­trick’s feast day was fi­nally placed on the univer­sal litur­gi­cal cal­en­dar in the Catholic Church due to the in­flu­ence of Waterford-born Fran­cis­can scholar Luke Wad­ding in the early 1600s. Saint Pa­trick’s Day thus be­came a holy day of obli­ga­tion for Ro­man Catholics in Ire­land. The church cal­en­dar avoids the ob­ser­vance of saints’ feasts dur­ing cer­tain solem­ni­ties, mov­ing the saint’s day to a time out­side those pe­ri­ods. Saint Pa­trick’s Day is oc­ca­sion­ally af­fected by this re­quire­ment, when March 17 falls dur­ing Holy Week. This hap­pened in 1940, when Saint Pa­trick’s Day was ob­served on April 3 in or­der to avoid it co­in­cid­ing with Palm Sun­day, and again in 2008, where it was of­fi­cially ob­served on March 14 (March 15 be­ing used for St Joseph, which had to be moved from March 19), although the sec­u­lar cel­e­bra­tion still took place on March 17. Saint Pa­trick’s Day will not fall within Holy Week again un­til 2160. (In other coun­tries, St Pa­trick’s feast day is also March 17, but litur­gi­cal cel­e­bra­tion is omit­ted when im­peded by Sun­day or by Holy Week.) In 1903, Saint Pa­trick’s Day be­came an of­fi­cial public hol­i­day in Ire­land. This was thanks to the Bank Hol­i­day (Ire­land) Act 1903, an act of the United King­dom Par­lia­ment in­tro­duced by Ir­ish Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment James O’mara. O’mara later in­tro­duced the law that re­quired that pubs and bars be closed on March 17 af­ter drink­ing got out of hand, a pro­vi­sion that was re­pealed in the 1970s. The first Saint Pa­trick’s Day pa­rade held in the Ir­ish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931 and was re­viewed by the then Min­is­ter of De­fence Des­mond Fitzger­ald. Although sec­u­lar cel­e­bra­tions now ex­ist, the hol­i­day re­mains a re­li­gious ob­ser­vance in Ire­land, for both the Ro­man Catholic Church and the Church of Ire­land. In the mid-1990s the gov­ern­ment of the Repub­lic of Ire­land be­gan a cam­paign to use Saint Pa­trick’s Day to show­case Ire­land and its cul­ture. The gov­ern­ment set up a group called St Pa­trick’s Fes­ti­val, with the aim to: Of­fer a na­tional fes­ti­val that ranks amongst all of the great­est cel­e­bra­tions in the world and pro­mote ex­cite­ment through­out Ire­land via in­no­va­tion, creativ­ity, grass­roots in­volve­ment, and mar­ket­ing ac­tiv­ity. Pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity and mo­ti­va­tion for peo­ple of Ir­ish de­scent, (and those who some­times wish they were Ir­ish) to at­tend and join in the imag­i­na­tive and ex­pres­sive cel­e­bra­tions. Project, in­ter­na­tion­ally, an ac­cu­rate im­age of Ire­land as a creative, pro­fes­sional and so­phis­ti­cated coun­try with wide ap­peal, as we ap­proach the new mil­len­nium. The first Saint Pa­trick’s Fes­ti­val was held on March 17, 1996. In 1997, it be­came a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four­day event. By 2006, the fes­ti­val was five days long; more than 675,000 peo­ple at­tended the 2009 pa­rade. Over­all 2009’s five day fes­ti­val saw close to 1 mil­lion vis­i­tors, who took part in fes­tiv­i­ties that in­cluded con­certs, out­door theatre per­for­mances, and fire­works. Skyfest forms the cen­tre­piece of the fes­ti­val. The topic of the 2004 St Pa­trick’s Sym­po­sium was ‘‘Talk­ing Ir­ish’’, dur­ing which the na­ture of Ir­ish iden­tity, eco­nomic suc­cess, and the fu­ture were dis­cussed. Since 1996, there has been a greater em­pha­sis on cel­e­brat­ing and pro­ject­ing a fluid and in­clu­sive no­tion of ‘‘Ir­ish­ness’’ rather than an iden­tity based around tra­di­tional re­li­gious or eth­nic al­le­giance. The week around Saint Pa­trick’s Day usu­ally in­volves Ir­ish lan­guage speak­ers us­ing more Ir­ish dur­ing seach­tain na Gaeilge (‘‘Ir­ish Week’’). As well as Dublin, many other cities, towns, and vil­lages in Ire­land hold their own pa­rades and fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing Cork, Belfast, Derry, Gal­way, Kilkenny, Lim­er­ick, and Waterford. The big­gest cel­e­bra­tions out­side Dublin are in Down­patrick, County Down, where Saint Pa­trick is ru­moured to be buried. In 2004, ac­cord­ing to Down Dis­trict Coun­cil, the week-long St Pa­trick’s Fes­ti­val had more than 2000 par­tic­i­pants and 82 floats, bands, and per­form­ers and was watched by more than 30,000 peo­ple. The short­est St Pa­trick’s Day pa­rade in the world takes place in Dripsey, Cork. The pa­rade lasts just 100 yards and trav­els be­tween the vil­lage’s two pubs. Chris­tian lead­ers in Ire­land have expressed con­cern about the sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion of St Pa­trick’s Day. In The Word mag­a­zine’s March 2007 is­sue, Fr. Vin­cent Twomey wrote, ‘‘It is time to re­claim St Pa­trick’s Day as a church fes­ti­val.’’ He ques­tioned the need for ‘‘mind­less al­co­hol-fu­elled rev­elry’’ and con­cluded that ‘‘it is time to bring the piety and the fun to­gether.’’

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