Sights, sounds and symbols of St. Patrick’s Day
Many people consider St. Patrick’s Day their favorite holiday. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations tend to be short on formality, long on fun and synonymous with various sights, sounds and symbols that make the holiday so special.
In ancient Ireland, the shamrock symbolized rebirth, particularly the rebirth of warmer weather. But the shamrock also has more specific ties to St. Patrick, and remains one of the most recognizable symbols associated with his feast day.
Historians believe that, on his return to Ireland (a native of Great Britain, St. Patrick was first taken to Ireland after being kidnapped by pirates, later returning as a Christian missionary after his release), St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the natives about the Holy Trinity.
In fact, an image of St. Patrick holding a shamrock first appeared on coins in 1675. The shamrock’s status as a symbol would continue to evolve when it became a figure of Irish patriotism during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. In 2003, the shamrock was registered as an international trademark by the Irish government.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrants who are not of Irish descent and/or those who have never visited Ireland may not know it, but the live music they may hear when entering a pub on St. Patrick’s Day is an integral part of the fabric of Irish culture. An Irish Seisiún typically finds a group of musicians gathered in a pub to play traditional Irish music, oftentimes while seated at a table among their audience. While many pubs reserve stage areas for their musicians on St. Patrick’s Day, the spirit of seisiún is still present, as musicians often interact with the audience.
Many establishments display the familiar Irish tricolour flag on St. Patrick’s Day, and paradegoers may even wave miniature versions of this significant symbol in support of those marching.
This instantly recognizable flag has a rich history. Equal parts green, white and orange, the flag was designed to foster peace in the country that had experienced considerable turmoil due to the divide between the country’s Protestant and Catholic residents. The green in the flag represents the Irish Catholics, while the orange represents the Irish Protestants.
The white is a symbol of hope for peace between the two factions. Though Ireland established the tricolour as its national flag in 1921, it first appeared much earlier when Irish national Thomas Francis Meagher unfurled it in 1848.
The color green is everywhere come St. Patrick’s Day, but celebrants may be surprised to learn that blue is the color that was once most affiliated with St. Patrick himself. Numerous paintings depict St. Patrick wearing blue vestments. But green is the color now most instantly associated with Ireland, which is widely referred to as the “Emerald Isle.” Ireland’s lush countryside and rolling green hills attract millions of visitors each year. The color green can be found just about everywhere on St. Patrick’s Day, even if Patrick himself was partial to blue.