It’s Paddy not Patty- Originally Published in the Pine County Courier March 23, 2016
(Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on Ireland, or St. Patrick’s Day, I would love to share traditions I have experienced spending two St. Patrick’s Days in Ireland.)
No leprechauns, rainbows, pots of gold, or green beer were found for my celebrations of St. Patricks Day in Ireland. My first was March 17, 2014, the second was the following year both during semesters of studying abroad at college. I had no idea what to expect of the highly anticipated holiday. Often the Americanized view of Ireland and the Holiday is filled with green clothing, beer, leprechauns, four leaf clovers, pots of gold, and did I mention lots of drinking. Being in the holiday’s home for the celebration, I saw a different side.
Both of my St. Patrick’s Days were spent in the small town of Louisburgh on the west coast of Ireland in County Mayo. This is where the College of St. Scholastica (CSS) chose to place their Ireland study abroad program over 35 years ago. Each year at least a dozen students and usually two professors make the trip to this small town for the spring semester of school. The town during this time of year has a population around 800, which grows to a few thousand during the warmer months with all of the summer homes in the area. Louisburgh sits near the base of Croagh Patrick which is St. Patrick’s Mountain, and location of his famous pilgrimage where he fasted at the summit for the 40 days of lent. Each year thousands of tourists visit this site, attempt the challenging climb, some barefoot and if they manage to make it to the top, visit the chapel on top, which has stunning views over the beautiful Clew Bay. I believe Louisburgh and its surrounding area are special places to be for the holiday.
Before going into all of the details of the celebrations I want to clear one small detail with the readers. To the Irish, the celebration on March 17th is Paddy’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day, not Patty’s or Patricks Day. This is because Saint Patricks modern Gaelic (Irish) name was Pádraig, pronounced (paw + rik, or paw + drig) or as a shortened name Paddy, not Patty. Many Irish are still named after the saint, and the tradition has continued. The individuals I have talked to think it is very silly that people in the U.S., and other places say, Patty or Patrick, the English version, and believe that since St. Padraig is Ireland’s patron saint it should be pronounced so.
Although Louisburgh is a very small town, it grew considerably during this holiday. Most of the Irish people were given this day off, as well as the day after. It was very traditional for adult children to travel back to wherever their childhood home was in Ireland to spend time with their families over the holiday. I was told it was traditional for families to eat meals together, go to the pub, and church together. One thing many locals did traditionally was to pick fresh shamrocks to pin to their clothing on St. Paddy’s Day. They did not bother searching for four leaf clovers like many of us may have done as kids; they preferred the three leaf clovers as they represent the trinity in Christianity. Wearing green clothing was also a common practice; but the clothing items did not need to have crazy slogans or leprechauns. Many Irish jerseys were seen, and plain green shirts. Some of the tradition to wear green clothes on St. Paddys Day was because green was considered the catholic color of Ireland, as well as for awhile the color of Ireland. The Irish flag is orange, white, and green. The green represents the Catholics, the orange represents the Protestants, and the white is peace in between them. From my experiences, the American College kids did far more dressing up as a whole than the community, although some community members did participate.
Louisburgh locals had a few traditions for St. Paddys day, the biggest being their annual parade. Hundreds, if not a few thousand gather for this annual parade, which begins and ends on the main road in town. This might be because there is only one main road through town. Once parade walkers and floats make one pass through the crowds of people huddled outside storefronts to the bridge of the Bunowen river, they simply turn around, line back up in order, and go back through the route in the opposite direction. It is almost like the town is able to witness two parades. I found this very strange, but in talking to local people this is how the parade has always been.
It was tradition for the CSS students to be part of the parade, as they had done so since the beginning. All students were required to participate, and we were told that the town’s people very much looked forward to our presence. Other floats included the local elementary school band, dance teams, and some local businesses. In many ways it was not unlike a parade that may be held in Small town, USA. After the parade, everyone gathered in the town square for some performances. The performances ranged from traditional Irish dance to a group of college Americans singing country songs.
Each year there were community events going on including traditional music, local art shows, and dance competitions as well as bake sales. The local pubs would have traditional bands for a minimum of a three-day spread, and most of the time it would be hard to get in the door. If the pub did not have a band scheduled, there were often musicians around who would begin to play anyways.
Although many kegs were ordered specifically for the celebration, and many pints flowed at the local pubs, they did not serve green beer; in fact, some people had never heard of such as thing. Most people thought it was ridiculous that other places dye their beer green.
St. Paddys Day hadn’t come popular in Ireland until fairly recently sometime in the 20th century. The day gained popularity by being celebrated by Irish Americans in the United States, and other places with Irish immigrants around the globe and has slowly gained popularity back in Ireland.
The first celebrations of St. Paddys in the United States were in the 18th century. The first two marches, and later parades were held in Boston in 1737, and New York in 1767, and are still going strong today. St. Paul, Minn. started their own St. Paddy’s Day parade in 1851, before it was a state. It stopped for a period in the early 1900s before being revived in 1967, and growing to around an 100,000 attendance.
There are currently 39.6 million Americans who claim Irish heritage according to census data. This is an alarming number as it is almost seven times larger than the population of Ireland which is currently 6.3 million between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Ireland is roughly a third of the size of Minnesota land wise. For so many Americans, not including other residents of other countries to claim heritage to Ireland is astounding. This makes St. Paddy’s Day a very big deal for many people. With the large number of individuals claiming Irish heritage, and others celebrating for fun it really doesn’t matter if you celebrate with green beer and leprechauns or not. I do not see this holiday fading away for a long time. So Sláinte or Cheers to that!