On Thursday 17 March BBC History Magazine, together with Encyclopædia Britannica, put together a list of facts about St Patrick’s Day – some of which were true, and some of which were false. How many did you get right?
True or false?
1. The colour traditionally associated with St Patrick was green
Blue was the colour traditionally associated with St Patrick, although green is now commonly connected with the day.
2. St Patrick’s Day has been an official public holiday for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland since 1950
St Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland in 1903.
3. Every year the American city of Chicago colours its river green to mark the holiday
Chicago has coloured its river green to mark the holiday since 1962. In 1961 it was discovered that the dye used to detect leaks into the river actually turned the water the vibrant green commonly associated with Ireland – and so a tradition was born.
4. St Patrick was born in Ireland
The exact details of St Patrick’s birth are unknown but, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, he was born in the late 4th or early 5th century somewhere in Roman Britain and sold into slavery in Ireland sometime before his 16th birthday.
5. Corned beef and cabbage are traditionally associated with the holiday
Corned beef and cabbage are associated with the holiday, and even beer is sometimes dyed green to celebrate the day.
6. St Patrick spent six years as a herdsman
At age 16 St Patrick was torn by Irish raiders from the villa of his father, Calpurnius, a deacon and minor local official, and carried into slavery in Ireland, where, during six bleak years spent as a herdsman, he turned with fervour to his faith.
7. St Patrick’s Day has always been celebrated by the church on 17 March
In 2008, St Patrick’s Day religious celebrations in Ireland were moved forward two days to 15 March because 17 March 2008 fell on the second day of Easter Week, a celebration which takes priority over any other feast days. In 1940, the religious celebrations of St Patrick’s Day were also moved when the day clashed with Palm Sunday. However, secular celebrations usually take place on 17 March, regardless.
8. According to legend, St Patrick drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea
Before the end of the 7th century, St Patrick had become a legendary figure, and the legends have continued to grow. One of these would have it that he drove the snakes of Ireland into the sea to their destruction. Another, probably the most popular, is that of the shamrock, which has him explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk.