| Photo: Getty Images

On March 17, it’s not just the Emerald Isle that shimmers in all shades of green: people all around the world celebrate Ireland’s patron saint, bathing buildings in green and draping themselves in the colour that is typically associated with Ireland. The official St Patrick’s Festival website claims that March 17 is the one national holiday that is celebrated by the most people all across the globe – it’s no wonder, then, that the whole world feels a bit Irish on that day. 

Who was St Patrick?

St Patrick himself, who is supposed to have lived in the 5th century, wasn’t actually Irish; he was born in Roman Britain, was kidnapped at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland as a slave. When he was finally able to flee, he had a dream telling him to return to Ireland as a Christian missionary. And that’s what he did after studying Christianity in France and being ordained as a priest. Legend has it that St Patrick explained the holy trinity to the pagans with the help of a shamrock, which has three leaves on one stem. To this day, the shamrock is a symbol inextricably linked with St Patrick and Ireland and that’s why you can spot it everywhere on March 17, when parades make their way through the streets of Dublin, Manchester, Chicago, Boston and New York.

| Photo: Picture Alliance

How is St Patrick’s Day celebrated in Ireland?

March 17 is thought to be the day St Patrick died and to honour him, the day has been a religious feast day in Ireland since the 17th century. It was made a public holiday in 1903 and there has been a military parade in Dublin since the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that pubs were opened on that day and that there was a decided shift to entertainment. The first St Patrick’s Festival, a one-day event, took place in Dublin in 1996 and has constantly been extended since, now spanning four to five days. 

 

| Photo: Picture Alliance

‘Greening the City’ is an important part of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations: buildings all over Dublin are illuminated green for the festival. In addition, there’s a food fair, music, song and traditional Irish dance, there are special exhibitions and a poetry trail as well as street theatre and storytelling – the latter is also this year’s theme for the annual parade. More than half a million visitors are drawn to Dublin in mid-March, the food, the music and, of course, the colourful parade on St Patrick’s Day itself being a more than welcome incentive.

Today there are more than 100 parades worldwide and buildings all across the globe are bathed in green light. Read more about the greening of cities – and rivers – in our latest Read On issue!