By the end of the week everyone will be wearing green and making merry for the yearly tradition of St. Patrick’s Day. This year, the holiday falls on a Saturday, which means that the party will start Friday night and continue until Sunday. Green eggs, corned beef hash, and boiled cabbage will be consumed with unfortunately green beer. Those who are a bit more discriminating will opt for a traditional Irish brew like Guinness or Murphy’s. We’ll talk more about the beer in a bit. But first, what do you really know about St. Patrick’s Day?
St. Patrick himself, oddly enough, was not even Irish. He was born to British aristocrats in 390 A. D. The family owned several homes and many slaves. As a boy, he had no interest in Christianity – to the chagrin of his devout family – and rarely attended services. But, when he was 16, his world took a terrible turn as he was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Ireland tending a heard of sheep. Partially to escape the horrors of slavery, Patrick turned to the religion of his parents and became a deeply-believing Christian. It was after his conversion that Patrick heard a voice in a dream instruct him to escape his bonds and return to Britain. He did and was subsequently ordained as a priest. The voice returned and commanded him to return to Ireland to bring the Christian faith to the island. On March 17, 461 A. D., Patrick died after an arduous life of beatings and ridicule and was largely forgotten by most of the Irish. But, due to his hard work, Christianity had caught on in Ireland.
In the first thousand years of Christianity, people thought to have been extremely holy were often canonized (sainted) by regional church officials. It is in this way the Patrick became St. Patrick. To this day he has never been canonized by a Pope.
In the centuries following his death, St. Patrick’s legend grew. Stories began to emerge of how he rid the Island nation of snakes and used three-leaf clovers to teach about the Holy Trinity. Lesser-known feats attributed to St. Patrick include that his ash wood walking stick that was thrust into the ground became a living tree and that he spoke to long-dead ancestors. Still, St. Patrick was considered a minor saint whose solemnity was observed primarily by European Irish only through the 16th century when it was recognized by the church and made a Holy Day of Obligation.
The holiday became known as a day of attending church and then a day of remembrance when the church lifted the Lenten restrictions forbidding the consumption of meat and alcohol. In 1903 March 17 was made a national holiday in Ireland and, thanks to banking rules, a day free from work. A few years later, James O’Mara, the same man who sponsored St. Patrick’s Day as a holiday, passed a bill that forced pubs to close on the holiday since drinking had gotten out of control. The law was not repealed until 1970.
In the meantime, St. Patrick’s Day had grown in popularity among Irish-Americans even though it is not a nationally-recognized holiday. Partiers are undeterred by this lack of status for the holiday and have celebrated it since the late eighteenth century, prior to the American Revolution. The holiday is a celebration of Irish and Irish American culture; celebrations include prominent displays of the color green, feasting, copious consumption of alcohol, religious observances, and numerous parades.
Among the alcohol consumed during the celebrations are distinctly Irish beers. Now that you have a feel for why the holiday takes place, over the next few days I will spotlight the various beers you can expect to drink this weekend. Check back daily for the stories of Guinness, Murphy’s, Harp and other Irish brews.