Classroom Facts About St. Patrick's Day March 11 2009

A Brief History of St. Patrick's Day

Have fun with your students with these fun facts on St Patricks Day!

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, is a sacred and fun celebration, not only in Ireland, where the holiday originated, but here in the United States, where 12% of our residents claim to be of Irish decent.

The holiday bursts of folklore, from leprechauns and shamrocks to corned beef & cabbage. And ouch! We may get pinched if we’re not wearing green. How did this holiday come about?

The Irish have celebrated this holiday since the death of Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, on March 17 around 460 A. D. Although there are many mysteries and legends surrounding his life, we do know some facts.

St. Patrick was born in Britain to a wealthy Christian family, but he was kidnapped on his parent’s estate by Irish raiders at age sixteen. They took him to Ireland where he was in held in captivity. While prisoner, he worked as a shepherd where he was in solitary for lengthy periods of time. Fearful and lonely for his family, he turned to his religion for comfort. He imagined and dreamt of converting the Irish pagans to Christianity.

Six years after being captured, Patrick escaped. According to his writings, God’s voice came to him in a dream telling him to leave Ireland. He walked nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast and escaped back to Britain.

While in Britain, Patrick reported a second vision from God, asking him to return to Ireland. He studied to be a missionary, and 15 years later returned to Ireland as a priest. His goal was to act as a minister to Christians already in Ireland, and convert the Irish pagans to Christians.

Some Fun Facts about St. Patrick’s Day

The shamrock has become a symbol of the St Patricks Day holiday. Photo by jciv.

  • Leprechauns originated from the Irish Celtic belief in small bodied men and women fairies, or “lobaircin”. Legend portrays them as mischievous pranksters who can use their magical powers to perform good or evil. These stories describe them as using trickery to protect pots of gold they supposedly buried throughout Ireland.
  • In reality, Leprechauns have nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day, and became notorious through a 1959 Disney film called Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Thus, the friendly Leprechaun is of American creativity. Troll dolls of the early 1960’s were originally called Leprechauns.
  • The Shamrock, also known as “seamroy” by the Celts of Ireland, was considered a sacred plant representing the rebirth of spring and is also believed to symbolize the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). When the English began to strip the Irish of their land, outlawing Catholicism, speaking the Celtic language, and festive traditional Celtic music, the Shamrock became a symbol of Irish patriotism.
  • During the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, music was banned in Ireland. Irish pipers and musicians were ordered to be arrested and hung if caught performing.
  • The Irish were allowed to break lent on St. Patrick’s Day to dance, drink and feast on their traditional meal of bacon & cabbage.
  • The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in New York, not Ireland, on March 17, 1766. Today, New York City continues to host the largest parade and celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S.
  • The original color symbolizing St. Patrick was not green, but actually blue! Ireland is traditionally known as “Emerald Island”; hence the festive green apparel has become traditional to wear on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • Until the Great Potato Famine in 1845 most Irish immigrants in the U.S. were Protestants. The famine brought thousands of starving Irish Catholics to America where they were hugely discriminated against for being Catholic. When these Irish Catholics celebrated their first St. Patrick’s Day in America, the newspapers portrayed them as monkeys.
  • Today there are nine places in the United States named after the capital of Ireland… Dublin. The largest one with a population of 39,328 is in Northern California.
  • “Erin Go Bragh”, a phrase heard on St. Patrick’s Day, means “I Love Ireland”.
  • There is no evidence that St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland and the myth is probably related to the fact that St. Patrick set out to banish paganism from the island, which was thus symbolized by snakes.


St. Patrick’s Day exemplifies our ability to overcome the hardships we encounter, achieve our goals, and celebrate our accomplishments. What a wonderful lesson to teach our children!