Celebrated all over the world, St. Patrick’s Day is both a religious event and a festival of Irish culture, as well as an excuse for a good old knees-up accompanied by plenty of Guinness. But just how much do you actually know about the venerated day that honours the patron saint of Ireland? Here are some lesser-known facts about St Patrick’s Day, which you can surprise the locals with when discovering Ireland’s treasures.
1. Patrick wasn’t actually Irish
St. Patrick was born into a Roman family living in Britain around 385 AD. As a child, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave, where he herded sheep for six years. During this time, he became devoutly religious and managed to escape back to Britain on a boat. Inspired by a dream, in his 30s, he went to France to train at a monastery, returning to Ireland 12 years later as a bishop with the Pope’s blessing. We’d recommend keeping this lesser-known fact to yourself, however, if you don’t want to kill the mood in your local Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day.
2. Global consumption of Guinness doubles on 17th March
On an average day, 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed across the world. But on St. Patrick’s Day, this figure increases to over 13 million pints. We suspect this is something to do with the unbeatably smooth, coffee-like quality of Ireland’s favourite brew… You can verify this yourself on our Best of Ireland trip, where we visit the Dublin Storehouse and get a masterclass in pulling the perfect pint.
4. Patrick never drove the snakes out of Ireland
According to legend, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland because he drove the snakes off the land and into the sea. However, that isn’t actually true. Ireland is in fact one of very few countries in the world never to have had snakes Scholars suggest the snake reference is allegorical. Serpents are symbols of evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition and St Patrick’s act of snake eradication can be seen as a metaphor for his Christian influence.
3. The Shamrock is not the symbol of Ireland
Despite popular assumption, the three-leafed clover is in fact not the Emerald Isle’s national symbol. However, the shamrock was used by St. Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity. The practice of ‘drowning the shamrock’ (drinking a shot of whisky with a shamrock in it) originated when St. Patrick chastised an innkeeper for not serving enough whisky.
5. The colour for St. Patrick’s Day should be blue
Blue was the well-documented colour of this holy man’s robes. Until 1801, even the Irish flag was blue. However, when visiting the Ring of Kerry’s breathtaking ‘forty rings of green’ on our Iconic Ireland trip, it’s easy to see why green is the colour more commonly associated with this verdant country (and why millions of people dress up like leprechauns on 17th March!).
6. Until 1970, you couldn’t get a pint in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day
Between 1901 and 1970, all of Ireland’s pubs were closed on 17th March due to it being a religious holiday. Emancipation from this enforced sobriety came when it was made a national holiday. St. Paddy’s soon went on to become the world’s biggest party fest.
7. Corned beef and cabbage doesn’t contain any corn
A traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal first enjoyed by Irish immigrants in 18th century America, the ‘corned’ in corned beef actually refers to the large, corn-like grains of salt that were used to keep the meat fresh. Beef was considered a luxury in Ireland, so the locals used bacon instead. When they arrived to America, they upgraded to beef, which was more cheaply available.
Now you know the truth about St. Patrick’s Day, it’s time to uncover the Hidden Gems of Ireland itself. You’ll uncover this beautiful land’s best-kept secrets on our Treasures of Ireland, Best of Ireland, and Iconic Ireland trips. Do you have any Ireland Hidden Gems we don’t know about?
Lead image © iStock/RyanJLane. Shamrocks © iStock/Scacciamosche. Guinness images © Trafalgar Travel.