17 things you didn’t know about St. Patrick’s Day

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St Patrick's Day carnival in Belfast
St Patrick’s Day carnival in Belfast. Photo by belfastcitycouncil

Northern Ireland has a bank holiday on 17 March …

Just like the Republic of Ireland. Given the Troubles, the first St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t occur until 1998. Today, there are well-attended and colourful celebrations in Belfast, Derry, Downpatrick, Newry, Armagh and Enniskillen.

St Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland
St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. Photo by || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL ||
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St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most-loved public holidays in Ireland …

Breaking up that long stretch between New Year’s and Easter. Although it was made an official holiday in 1903, it was only in the 1960s that one could drown the shamrock in a pub (that’s when you pull the shamrock off your lapel and throw it into the last drink of the night).

Last pint of the night
The last pint of Guinness of St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by mattwunderle

Sales of Guinness soar on St. Patrick’s Day…

According to recent figures from the drinks giant 5.5 million pints of the black stuff are downed around the world each day. On 17 March, the number more than doubles to 13 million pints.

Little Bay, Montserrat
Little Bay, Montserrat. Photo by David Stanley


This welcoming home to Irish slaves in the 17th century is one of the few places outside Ireland where St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday. Its festival runs for one week (10-19 March) with a Freedom Run, calypso competition, nature hike and a reconstructed Slave Village teeming with stalls selling delicious African-Irish delicacies.

Saint Patrick
Saint Patrick. Photo by starbeard

St Patrick was not Irish…

He was from Wales. And the humble shamrock was, originally, a teaching tool; St Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to the pagan Irish.

St. Patrick's Day in Boston
A Sailor shakes hands with spectators during the 111th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2012. Photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery


Lays claim to the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1737, however, it was the people of New York who got together and had the first organised parade in 1766. Today, about 36 million Americans claim Irish descent.

The wearing of the blue
Once upon a time, green was considered to be unlucky… Photo by momentcaptured1

Back in the day, the colour most associated with St Patrick was …

Blue. St. Patrick’s blue was considered symbolic of Ireland for many centuries and the Irish Presidential Standard is still blue. While small splashes of green were worn as far back as 1681, it was only when political factions started adopting the colour green that it became synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day.

Austin Powers at a recent parade in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Austin Powers in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of www.shorteststpats.com

For many years, Dripsey in County Cork had the world’s shortest parade…

Just 23.4 metres (77 feet) between two pubs – The Weigh Inn and The Lee Valley. Sadly, The Lee Valley Inn closed in 2007 and now the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas claims to have the shortest parade – a 30-metre (98 feet) route on Bridge Street. Recent participants included the Irish Elvises and the San Diego Chicken.

The Sydney Opera House - greened
The Sydney Opera House – greened. Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland

In Sydney

St Patrick’s Day was first marked on 17 March 1810. Lachlan Macquarie, the Governor of New South Wales, provided entertainment for Irish convict workers. In 2010, the Sydney Opera House was lit up in green for the first time to mark the 200th anniversary.

Despite the buzzing festival in Dublin, many entertainers - and public figures - go abroad to work and look for investors
Where is everyone? Photo by ghewgill

Go to Ireland on 17 March …

And you won’t find very many public figures, musicians or dancers. They will have fanned out around the world for lucrative gigs, and, in the case of Irish politicians, to drum up some trade.

The Chicago River goes Kelly Green
Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 110 union dyes the river green each year and the vibrant Kelly green lasts for about five hours. Photo by Monika Thorpe

We’re used to seeing rivers and fountains dyed green…

The Chicago River is the most famous example of this, but in Seattle, Washington, a green stripe is laid along the centre of 4th Avenue to mark the route of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (from 4th Ave at Jefferson up to Westlake Park). The ceremony is carried out the night before the parade (Friday, 16 March this year).

Shamrocks growing wild in Ireland
Short-shelf life … the shamrocks that are presented to the American president are “handled” by the Secret Service. Photo by IrishFireside

The shamrock gifted to the American president at the White House is grown in …

County Kerry. The Taoiseach and the president (President O’Bama for the day no doubt) wear their best green ties, pose for the media with the crystal bowl that overflows with the lush, green shamrock, exchange friendly words about Ireland-US relations and then… the Secret Service take it away and destroys it.

A riot of colour and craic - St. Patricks Festival - 2013
St. Patricks Festival – 2013. Photo courtesy of www.stpatricksfestival.ie

In Dublin

The first Saint Patrick’s Festival was held on 17 March 1996. This year’s theme – “Great Things Happen When We Get Together’, is inspired by The Gathering Ireland 2013.

Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is said to be buried
Downpatrick, where St. Patrick is said to be buried. Photo by by genvessel

One of the biggest celebrations outside Dublin is in Downpatrick, County Down…

It’s where Saint Patrick is said to be buried. His grave is an important place of pilgrimage on 17 March and there’s a visitor centre that tells the story of Ireland’s patron saint.

The lighthouse at Peggy's Cove
Newfoundland is one of the three places, along with Ireland and Montserrat, that has a public holiday on 17 March. Photo by photo fiddler

Wild and windswept Newfoundland in Canada

Has a provincial holiday on 17 March, which marks its historic associations with Ireland. Generations of Irish immigrants have made their mark with place names such as St. Patrick’s, Patrick’s Cove, Ireland’s Eye and Kilbride.

Found the gold at the end of the rainbow
The leprechaun with his pot of gold made an appearance at a recent parade in Montreal. Photo by jpmpinmontreal


Is home to one of the longest-running parades in North America. It goes back to 1824. No surprise there, the flag of Montreal has a shamrock, representing the Irish, in the bottom right corner. Along with the English, French and Scottish, the Irish were one of the founding groups of the city in the 19th century.

The Shamrock Shake, one of McDonald's most popular seasonal items
The Shamrock Shake, one of McDonald’s most popular seasonal items

The Shamrock Shake is McDonald’s contribution …

To the feast of St. Patrick. The much-loved creation is 530 calories of minty-flavoured nectar topped off with whipped cream and a juicy red cherry. Like leprechauns, Aran jumpers and corned beef and cabbage it only comes out at this time of year. It’s on sale at McDonald’s in the US and Ireland until 25 March. There’s even a website devoted to Shamrock Shake sightings.
(Featured image: Rodolphe Breard)

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17 things you didn’t know about St. Patrick’s Day was last modified: April 12th, 2016 by Oonagh Shiel
Author: Oonagh Shiel (3406 posts)

Content Manager at Cheapflights whose travel life can be best summed up as BC (before children) and PC (post children). We only travel during the school holidays so short-haul trips and staycations are our specialities!