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Fun with Folklore: Discover Irish Traditions on St. Patrick's Day

This St. Patrick’s Day, immerse yourself in a little Irish tradition. Learn about the culture's symbols and folklore and feast on some traditional foods.

Patch File Photo
Patch File Photo
By Brienna McWade

Who was Saint Patrick?  PerHistory.com: "St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity's most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.” A bunch of blarney, if you will.

Born into a wealthy British family, Saint Patrick was imprisoned at a young age as Irish natives raided his family home. During his imprisonment, he turned to Christianity for solace and after six years, escaped to Britain by walking 200 miles from County Mayo to the Irish Coast. Once in Britain, he had a vision that an angel told him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Saint Patrick became ordained as a priest and went to Ireland to minister to and convert the Irish people who largely believed in a nature-based pagan religion.

It is believed that Saint Patrick created the Celtic Cross by superimposing a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the traditional cross to appeal more natural to the Irish people.

What is "Blarney?" A popular expression to imply false storytelling.

What does "Erin go Bragh" mean? It’s a popular expression meaning “Ireland Forever."

Did you know that the Chicago River is dyed green every year for their St. Patrick’s Day celebration? Why the color green?  Saint Patrick was originally associated with the color blue, though green ribbons and shamrocks were worn as early as the 17th century. Its color is taken from the shamrock, whose three leaves are believed to stand for the Holy Trinity. “Wearing of the green” became a phrase to indicate wearing a shamrock and speak against Irish paganism.

Why a shamrock or clover?  Irishmen to this day do not agree to what the real shamrock is. Several plant varieties are considered to be the authentic symbol of this celebrated holiday. It is a sacred plant from ancient Ireland, symbolizing the "rebirth of spring."

Where does the leprechaun character stem from?  It is likely that the leprechaun, meaning "small-bodied fellow," originated with the Celtic beliefs of fairies. The leprechaun was a cranky man who was responsible for mending fairy shoes. They played a minor role in Celtic folklore but were known for their trickery, used to protect a much-fabled treasure.

A cheerful, friendly leprechaun is an American take on this classic character, which may have originated from Disney’s film "Darby O’Gill & the Little People."

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