St. Patrick’s Day: facts, fallacies and fun

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2004

BY SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

RIVER PARISHES – Whether your ancestry is or isn’t Irish, most likely you have somehow celebrated St. Patrick’s Day during your lifetime. Many customs, traditions and celebrations take place each year on March 17 throughout the United States.

Parades, festivals, and family get-togethers are part of the fun.

“My family makes the traditional cabbage and corned beef, and we add a few American dishes,” said Mary McCan of LaPlace. “My family is very small, and we didn’t have a lot of recipes handed down to us.”

Tom Murphy of LaPlace will be working St. Patrick’s Day, and his three children will be in school, so they won’t be able to celebrate on that day. But his Irish heritage won’t be forgotten, since he has a family book written by his grandfather, John Hawthorn. The journal portrays the family’s lifestyle and important history of the times when Hawthorn was raising his family.

Many local stores have special sections with St. Patrick’s Day cards and related items. Variety stores have stocked appropriately designed green paper products for those planning parties for the special day.

And bakeries are also getting in on the action. Green shamrock cookies, as well as butter cakes decorated with greenery, can be found in all local stores that sell baked goods.

Many local schools design a craft or celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in some manner. And some parents also like to recognize this day of ‘wearing of the green.’

Kim Richards of Destrehan makes sure her family members wear green for good luck. “I remember when I was in school, and if you didn’t wear green, you got pinched,” she laughed. Richards also makes corned beef and cabbage, although she is not Irish. “My husband grew up in New York and they celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a big way up there. He expects the traditional food.”

Irishman Lon McBain moved to New Orleans from the East Coast five years ago, and will be enjoying many foods of his heritage with his family. “We used to eat Irish bacon and cabbage with my grandparents,” he said. “My wife, Mary, improvises and makes her own recipe.”

An interesting fact of history behind St. Patrick the Missionary is that Patrick wasn’t his given name.

He was born towards the fourth century A.D. in Wales, and given the name of Maewyn by his well-to-do parents. When he was sixteen years old, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate.

During his captivity, he worked as a shepherd and didn’t have much contact with other people. He turned to his religion for comfort.

After six years, Maewyn escaped his captors and fled to a monastery, where he stayed for 12 years. At that time, he took the name of St. Patrick.

The young man wanted to deliver a mission to Ireland, since he knew the language and felt a calling to go there. His superiors at the monastery did not agree, feeling he didn’t have the appropriate experience, and instead sent another man, St. Palladius. Two years later, this saint moved to Scotland, and St. Patrick was on the road to Ireland.

Although much of St. Patrick’s personal life remains a mystery, there are none that doubt his devotion to his goals. He has been remembered as a remarkable missionary who established numerous schools and monasteries during his lifetime.

A wee bit of St. Pat’s trivia

· St. Patrick was born in Britain, not Ireland;

· Christianity did not become the national faith of Ireland during his lifetime;

· Boston, Massachusetts celebrated the first St. Patrick’s Day in 1737;

· New York City hosted the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1762;

· The practice of parades continued, showing solidarity among people of the Irish-American community, who often encountered anti-Irish prejudice.

· In 1948, President Truman was the first American president to attend the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

· Leprechauns are not patron saints of Ireland. These symbols of little men with green hats may have more to do with greeting card artists than Irish history.

· The color green is thought to be lucky for many reasons. Most notably, it is the color of the rare four-leaf clover, and it also reflects the nickname of Ireland, ‘The Emerald Isle’;

· St. Patrick was not the first missionary to introduce Ireland’s people to the practice of Christianity. Although the majority of people practiced a nature-based pagan religion, there were some already converted to Christianity when St. Patrick delivered his mission;

· In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was traditionally a strict religious holiday. People went to church in the morning and ate a special meal in the afternoon. Pubs were closed until the 1970s. In 1995, the country started a national campaign to boost tourism by showcasing the holiday. It worked – more than one million people took part in the annual St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin last year.