St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and known for bringing Christianity to Ireland. He was born in 390 A.D in Britain and raised by a Christian family. However he was not much interested in God and at the time was illiterate. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd on a hillside. All alone except for his sheep and captors. he began to cry out to God for rescue him. He had a dream in which God revealed himself and that he would be going home.
Risking his life, he boarded a ship for Britain where he returned to his family. He was welcomed back but realized that he had been transformed by God. He entered a monastery to pursue his calling as a Catholic priest. As a result of his education, he came to understand Holy Scripture and impressed his peers and superiors with his character. He would be made a bishop in due course. Nearly three decades after this slavery in Ireland, he felt a call from God that he had to return to Ireland and spread the word of Jesus to a people who had become lost. This was no easy journey for him since travel was difficult but he faced hostility from those who opposed him trying to convert people away from paganism. Patrick was ready though to face the trials that might take his life (he was attacked and beaten by thugs and Irish royalty disdained him) and persevered in proclaiming the Gospel and training converts.
His courageous leadership and his crisscrossing the countryside paid off as thousands and more would be converted. Churches were being established and he was training those to shepherd the church after he was gone. He would die on March 17, 461 A.D. He has been venerated as a saint and patron saint of Ireland since then by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches. In Ireland it is a solemnity and thus a holy day of obligation. It is also a cultural day as well to celebrate Ireland. Traditionally many in Ireland will wear shamrocks, wear green, attend Mass, watch parades, have a special breakfast and dinner, and of course celebrate by having a beer in their favorite pub (or outside due to the crowds). It has been a public holiday in Ireland since 1903. Since the feast does fall within Lent and is a solemnity in Ireland, it is permissible to eat foods normally excluded during this time (or any food you have selected to give up). However outside of Ireland should the day fall on a Friday, the local bishop will provide guidance. Usually the bishop will give dispensation to allow Catholics to eat meat but usually asks they fast on a day during that week or the following one.
There are a lot of food traditions associated with Saint Patrick’s Day. Many foods though are more inspired than what was traditionally served in Ireland. And some would never be served ever in Ireland, such as green beer. It would be an insult to chemically dye a beer green in a country that loves their beer. So do not make the mistake of asking for green beer should you be in Ireland on Saint Patrick’s Day. They may laugh it off or you may be cut off and forced to stand outside the pub and mocked for your audacity.
One food associated with Ireland is soda bread. This was a common staple (and still is) in Ireland but it was originally a very humble bread free of all the leavenings and additions you see in grocery stores. Since yeast is rather hard to use in the wet climate of Ireland (they had yeast they could use for sourdough and from other sources), baking soda ultimately became important for making the daily bread, It only has five ingredients: flour, buttermilk, salt, sugar, and baking soda. And because you simply made it into ball, no kneading was needed. One very good recipe can be found at Old World Garden Farms which has the traditional recipe and shows how it can be made.
Once you master how to make it, you will see that it is actually a very tasty bread for daily use. And if you like raisins, go for it. I like it either way (plain or with raisins). And the ingredients are very inexpensive, So if you are looking to get in touch with your Irish roots, try making this soda bread. Now Max Miller, who does the excellent Tasting History series over on YouTube, has a video on this very subject.
Here is a brief but very good overview of Saint Patrick done by The History Guy.
A very popular song in Ireland is The Minstrel Boy by Thomas More. One rendition ended up, in all places, in Star Trek:The Next Generation. Chief O’Brien meets with his old commanding officer (Captain Maxwell) to convince him to back down from a confrontation he is sure to lose with with Captain Picard. They reminisce about a fallen comrade who used to sing this song. And O’Brien sings with Maxwell, forcing him to realize he has made a mistake. It is from the season 4 episode The Wounded.
Here is a fuller version done by John McDermott in 2022. It is beautiful and rousing version of this song.
HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY