How Is St. Patrick’s Day Celebrated In Ireland vs The U.S.?

Written By: Sophia Ortiz-Heaney

March is known in the U.S. for two things: terrible weather and the day everyone suddenly wears green: Saint Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day happens on March 17th of every year. The day is supposed to honor the Irish Saint Patrick. St. Patrick is known for bringing Chrisitanity to Ireland, building churches and schools, and allegedly driving the snakes out of Ireland. He also explained the Holy Trinity using a shamrock. However, the ways and reasons that Ireland and the United States celebrate the day are vastly different due to cultural and historical differences. 

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a national holy holiday, where banks and schools are closed. It is celebrated more religiously and honors St. Patrick as the focus. Typically, the main event of the day is a big feast, which first happened in 1631. The day is normally spent with family and friends surrounded by good food. This includes Irish comfort foods, like bacon and cabbage, lamb stew, boxty, or smoked haddock. 

The cornbeef and cabbage combo most Americans associate with St. Paddy’s day originated from working class Irish Americans in the 1800s. They would go out to the ports and barter with the ship cooks for their leftover beef, which is the cheapest meat they could find. Drinking was not commonly associated with the holiday in Ireland because it was a holy day, where Irish law prohibited drinking on holy days until 1961. Before 1961, the only place to get a beer was the Royal Dublin Dog Show. 

In modern times, the color green is associated with Ireland and St. Patrick’s day, but that wasn’t always the case. St. Patrick used to be associated with blue until the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Although Ireland has started to adopt more green decorations on March 17 besides shamrocks, it still isn’t as overused as it is in America. In the U.S., many people wear green clothing and accessories on March 17th to help celebrate. In fact, Chicago has dyed the Chicago River green every year since 1962. Many foods and drinks, famously Guinness beer, are dyed green in the U.S. to celebrate as well. 

In comparison to Ireland, where St. Patrick’s day has been observed since the 10th century, the U.S. has been celebrating since the 1600s. Evidence points that the first St. Patrick’s day parade was held in 1601 in now modern day St. Augustine, Florida, but more founded origins are in the eastern big cities like Boston, NYC, and Chicago. 

Boston takes the place of the first St. Patrick’s Day of celebration in 1737, where just 24 Irish Americans gathered to honor St. Patrick. The first dialogged St. Patrick Parade happened in 1762 in Manhattan, where Irish born British soldiers marched through the streets of Manhattan to get something to eat at a nearby tavern. In hindsight, it’s ironic that the Redcoats started the now heavily televised and participated in Irish St. Paddy’s parades. Now, the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade attracts around 150,000 participants and over two million spectators.  Until recently, there weren’t parades in Ireland during the holiday. Now, there is a four day celebration in Dublin. However, it still isn’t as big as the parades in Manhattan or Chicago. 

After the Irish Potato famine in 1845, many Irish immigrants who fled to America wanted to cherish and honor their identities, especially during heightened xenophobia from the “Know-Nothing Party,” who were anti-Irish Catholic. This more secular reasoning behind the celebration has stuck to modern day Irish Americans, who celebrate St. Patrick’s day to honor their cultural heritage. In more recent times, this tradition has been adopted by all Americans, no matter ethnicity, due in part to the commercialization and party atmosphere surrounding the holiday.

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