|Posted on March 17, 2013 at 8:55 AM|
Little is known of Patrick's early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave. It is believed he was held somewhere on the west coast of Ireland, possibly Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. According to his Confession, he was told by God in a dream to flee from captivity to the coast, where he would board a ship and return to Britain. Upon returning, he quickly joined the Church in Auxerre in Gaul and studied to be a priest.
In 432, he again said that he was called back to Ireland, though as a bishop, to Christianise the Irish from their native polytheism. Irish folklore tells that one of his teaching methods included using the shamrock to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people. After nearly thirty years of evangelism, he died on 17 March 461, and according to tradition, was buried at Downpatrick. Although there were other more successful missions to Ireland from Rome, Patrick endured as the principal champion of Irish Christianity and is held in esteem in the Irish church.
Saint Patrick's feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. In later times he became more and more widely known as the patron of Ireland. Saint Patrick's feast day was finally placed on the universal liturgical calendar in the Catholic Church due to the influence of Waterford-born Franciscan scholar Luke Wadding in the early 1600s. Saint Patrick's Day thus became a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. The church calendar avoids the observance of saints' feasts during certain solemnities, moving the saint's day to a time outside those periods. Saint Patrick's Day is occasionally affected by this requirement, when 17 March falls during Holy Week. This happened in 1940, when Saint Patrick's Day was observed on 3 April in order to avoid it coinciding with Palm Sunday, and again in 2008, where it was officially observed on 14 March (15 March being used for St. Joseph, which had to be moved from 19 March), although the secular celebration still took place on 17 March. Saint Patrick's Day will not fall within Holy Week again until 2160. (In other countries, St. Patrick's feast day is also 17 March, but liturgical celebration is omitted when impeded by Sunday or by Holy Week.)
In 1903, Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. This was thanks to the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, an act of the United Kingdom Parliament introduced by Irish Member of Parliament James O'Mara. O'Mara later introduced the law that required that pubs and bars be closed on 17 March after drinking got out of hand, a provision that was repealed in the 1970s. The first Saint Patrick's Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931 and was reviewed by the then Minister of Defence Desmond Fitzgerald. Although secular celebrations now exist, the holiday remains a religious observance in Ireland, for both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland.
The first Saint Patrick's Festival was held on 17 March 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five days long; more than 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade. Overall 2009's five day festival saw close to 1 million visitors, who took part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theatre performances, and fireworks. Skyfest forms the centrepiece of the festival.
The topic of the 2004 St. Patrick's Symposium was "Talking Irish", during which the nature of Irish identity, economic success, and the future were discussed. Since 1996, there has been a greater emphasis on celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of "Irishness" rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance. The week around Saint Patrick's Day usually involves Irish language speakers using more Irish during Seachtain na Gaeilge ("Irish Language Week").
As well as Dublin, many other cities, towns, and villages in Ireland hold their own parades and festivals, including Cork, Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford.
The biggest celebrations outside Dublin are in Downpatrick, County Down, where Saint Patrick is rumoured to be buried. In 2004, according to Down District Council, the week-long St. Patrick's Festival had more than 2,000 participants and 82 floats, bands, and performers and was watched by more than 30,000 people.
The shortest St Patrick's Day parade in the world takes place in Dripsey, Cork. The parade lasts just 100 yards and travels between the village's two pubs.
Christian leaders in Ireland have expressed concern about the secularisation of St Patrick's Day. In The Word magazine's March 2007 issue, Fr. Vincent Twomey wrote, "It is time to reclaim St Patrick's Day as a church festival." He questioned the need for "mindless alcohol-fuelled revelry" and concluded that "it is time to bring the piety and the fun together."