St Patrick’s Day 2023: when is Irish celebration, annual traditions, who was Saint Patrick, what is his story?

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland annually on 17 March

St Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious festival held annually on 17 March to mark the death of St Patrick - the patron saint of Ireland.

Also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick, or in Irish, Lá Fhéile Pádraig, this day sees a celebration of the heritage and culture of the Irish.

But what is the history of St Patrick’s Day, who is the patron saint, and how do people celebrate the day?

Here’s what you need to know.

Who was St Patrick? 

St Patrick’s Day commemorates St Patrick, the ‘Apostle of Ireland’, a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland.Most of the information about St Patrick derives from the Declaration - a book allegedly written by St Patrick himself.

It is believed that St Patrick was born in the fifth century, to a wealthy Romano-British family, where his father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest. But St Patrick’s birthplace is not known with certainty.

According to the Declaration, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates at the age of 16 where he was held captive for six years. During these years, his spiritual development grew and through his work as a shepherd, he strengthened his relationship with God leading him to convert back to Christianity.

A man wears cloverleaf glasses during the St Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland.A man wears cloverleaf glasses during the St Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland.
A man wears cloverleaf glasses during the St Patrick's Day parade on March 17, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland.

According to tradition, Saint Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish community to Christianity, and he evangelised the northern half of Ireland.

St Patrick is also known as the saint who expelled snakes from Ireland, however, snakes are not known to inhabit the region.

It is said that St Patrick died 17 March, and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the years, the legend of Saint Patrick grew to make him the patron saint of Ireland.

However, St Patrick has never been formally canonised by a pope, as canonisations were traditionally conducted on a diocesan or regional level. The local church affirmed that holy people could be liturgically celebrated as saints after the first thousand years of Christianity.

What are the traditions of St Patrick’s Day?

St Patrick’s Day is a social festival, often forming into parades and carnivals. Celebrations involve traditional Irish music sessions and wearing green attire adorned in shamrocks.

According to legend, shamrocks were used by St Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish pagans.

St Patrick’s Day celebrations are extremely popular in North America, and the large festivities of parades did not spread into Ireland until the 20th century.

In Ireland, St Patrick’s Day has led to a closer connection to the Irish language, where many people partake in Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week).

Within the last decade, Saint Patrick’s Day has become an international event, with many famous landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House, and the Sky Tower in Auckland having lit up green to mark the occasion.

Countries such as Norway, Malta, Scotland, Japan and Montserrat also hold celebrations on this day - all connected to St Patrick.

St Patrick’s Day has also been commemorated in space, on the International Space Station, with Irish- American astronaut Catherine Coleman playing a hundred-year-old flute in 2011.

It is also customary to wear green on this day. Many Christians also attend Church services and any Lenten restrictions on drinking alcohol or eating are lifted.

This may have led to an integral custom of the day - drinking alcohol such as Irish whiskey, beer or cider in celebration, often with a shamrock at the bottom of the glass.

Saint Patrick’s Day is an official public holiday in Ireland.

How to say Happy St Patrick’s Day in Irish

According to IrishCentral, there are many different ways to wish someone a Happy St Patrick’s Day.

The most common way is saying’ Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit’ meaning Happy Saint Patrick’s day to you, pronounced like ‘Law leh Paw-drig suna ghit’.

A religious way would be Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig dhuit meaning “St Patrick’s Day blessings to you.”