11 Surprising St Patrick's Day Fact's You Never Knew Aboutairport_transferbarbathtubbusiness_facilitieschild_activitieschildcareconnecting_roomcribsfree_wifigymhot_tubinternetkitchennon_smokingpetpoolresturantski_in_outski_shuttleski_storagesmoking_areaspastar

11 Surprising St Patrick's Day Fact's You Never Knew About

Shamrock | © Public Domain Pictures
Shamrock | © Public Domain Pictures
It’s celebrated the world over, but St Patrick’s Day (March 17th) still has some mysteries up its sleeve. From staying sober to Ireland’s patron saint sending snakes packing, here’s some Paddy’s Day facts that are worth drinking to.

Was St Patrick Irish?

Although he is the island’s best-known patron saint, Saint Patrick wasn’t actually from Ireland. Born around 385AD in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped by a band of Irish pirates at the age of 16, and brought to Ireland as a slave. Patrick later escaped back to England, but according to The Confession of Saint Patrick, he had a vision in which he was urged to return to the Irish as a missionary.

St Patrick’s robes were actually blue, not green

The colour green has become a key part of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. The city of Chicago dyes an entire river green to honour the day, while in Dublin, green lights illuminate historic buildings. However, it’s been pointed out that the colour originally associated with St Patrick was blue – there’s even a shade officially known as St Patrick’s blue. Green became more strongly associated with Ireland during the country’s struggle for independence.

He didn’t banish any snakes

According to legend, Saint Patrick is the reason that there are no snakes in Ireland, having banished them into the sea. Although it’s a good story, unfortunately Irish fossil experts have confirmed that there were never any legless reptiles in the country in the first place. Like many humans, it’s likely that they wouldn’t have been able to abide ancient Ireland’s climate. It’s widely believed that this legend is a metaphor for Patrick driving out pagan druids when he established Christianity in the country.

Do pubs close on St Patrick’s Day?

It’s difficult to imagine now, but there was a time when all the pubs in Ireland were closed on St Patrick’s Day by law. The legal requirement was introduced by James O’Mara, the same politician who introduced the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act 1903, first making the day into a national holiday in Ireland. Originally meant as a mark of religious respect, it wasn’t until the 1970s that is was repealed and revellers could raise a glass to Saint Patrick.

Festivalgoers on Dublin's Dame Street outside Trinity pub on St Patrick's Day © Bernard Golden / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s a holy day of obligation for Catholics

St Patrick’s Day is also a holy day of obligation for members of the Roman Catholic Church, meaning they are supposed to attend mass at some point during the day. Traditionally, these holy feast days were intended to be spent in reflection and prayer, and definitely not in the pub.

Musicians play at the second stage of St. Patrick, Dublin © Michael Debets/Alamy Live News

But it’s a break from Lent

Having a feast day in the middle of Lent isn’t ideal, given one of its customs is fasting. Thankfully, Catholics have traditionally been given a reprieve on St Patrick’s Day. In the years the day falls on a Friday, Catholic leaders in the US have give permission for those who observe the custom of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent to partake in the traditional American St Patrick’s Day meal of corned beef and cabbage.

America led the parades

It turns out St Patrick’s Day parades are as Irish as the man himself, with the first parade taking place in New York City, not Ireland. It was held in the 1760s and organised by Irish soldiers in the British Army. Ireland’s first parades didn’t happen until 1903, in Waterford, the year James O’Mara’s bill passed and created the official national holiday.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock (9469663b) People watch the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York, the United States, on March 17, 2018. People gathered alongside New York City's Fifth Avenue to watch the St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday. St. Patrick's Day Parade, New York, USA - 17 Mar 2018 © Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

There’s no real evidence St Patrick used shamrock in his teachings

Although it’s widely believed that Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to describe the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there’s no written mention of his having done so until as late as the 1600s, and it’s thought to be a myth. Wearing shamrock on your lapel – and later ‘drowning’ it in a beverage – became a St Patrick’s Day tradition at the end of the 17th century. The shamrock later became a national emblem during Ireland’s fight for independence and is often confused with a four-leaf clover – most recently on Donald Trump’s St Patrick’s Day hats.

Participants in the celebration of St. Patrick's Day © Fifg / Alamy Stock Photo

The shamrock brought to the White House every year is most likely destroyed

The tradition of Irish government leaders presenting the US President with a bowl of shamrock at the White House on St Patrick’s Day goes back to the 1950s. However, it’s recently come to light as to where all that shamrock goes after the ceremony. In 2010, a CNN story revealed that ‘any food, drink or plant presented to the president has to be handled pursuant to Secret Service policy’, which means destroyed.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock (10156172i) US President Donald J. Trump (L) and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (R) participate in the Shamrock Bowl Presentation in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 14 March 2019. The visit by Varadkar, three days before Saint Patrick's Day, included an Oval Office visit and lunch at the US Capitol, US President Donald J. Trump meets with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Washington, DC, USA - 14 Mar 2019 © ERIK S LESSER/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

It’s even celebrated in outer space

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in countries across the globe, and even in lower orbit. It’s been marked several times on NASA’s International Space Station, most recently by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who filmed himself singing Danny Boy on St Patrick’s Day 2013. In 2011, astronaut Cady Coleman played a flute in the satellite to honour the occasion.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield poses for a photo in the Unity Node 1. He is wearing a green shirt and bow tie in honour of St. Patrick's Day Courtesy of NASA

St Patrick isn’t Ireland’s only patron saint

Although he is the saint most commonly linked with the country, Saint Patrick isn’t the only Irish patron saint. When he died – apparently on March 17, 461 – Saint Patrick is said to have been buried in Downpatrick, with the remains of Saint Brigid and Saint Columba, Ireland’s other patron saints, later joining.

Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland © Paul Lindsay / Alamy Stock Photo