Faith and begorrah: The history behind some popular Irish traditions
On the day tradition states St. Patrick of Ireland passed away, celebrants the world over have been dying their beer green.
The custom of green beer came about in Ireland when drinkers would add green shamrocks to their beer, their way of “drowning the shamrock.” Legend has it that Saint Patrick, who lived in the fifth century, used the three-sided shamrock as a way to illustrate the Trinity.
In the book, Declaration, purportably written by St. Patrick himself, the future Belfast-born cleric was kidnapped by Irish raiders when he was 16. During the six years of his captivity working as a shepherd, St. Patrick “found God.” According to the volume, God told him to flee to the coast where a boat would be waiting for him. He returned to England and took vows for the priesthood. It was after this that he returned to Ireland to convert the “pagans” to Christianity.
Tradition recalls St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. In fact, St. Patrick drove the druids out, the druids being the “snakes” of legend. There has never been any real snakes in the Emerald Isle.
The term Emerald Isle first appeared in the poem, “When Erin first Rose,” written by William Drennan in 1795.
They appear in the following stanza:
“Alas! for poor Erin that some are still seen,
Who would dye the grass red from their hatred to green;
Yet, oh! when you're up, and they're down, let them live,
Then yield them that mercy which they would not give.
Arm of Erin, be strong! but be gentle as brave;
And uplifted to strike, be still ready to save;
Let no feeling of vengeance presume to defile
The cause of, or men of, the Emerald Isle.”
The only two places in the United States where St. Patrick's Day are legal holidays are Savannah Ga. and Suffolk County, Mass. It is celebrated, however, in more countries of the world than any other national festival.