Saint Patrick was revered in Ireland for bringing Christianity to the island. Remembering the date of his death on March 17th has taken place for centuries. That date was recognized as one of 35 feast and fasting days in Ireland since the fifteenth century. Pope Urban VIII added Saint Patrick’s Day to the church calendar in 1631. Events of Pattern Day, a corruption of “patron saint” day, included pilgrimages to a well or chapel or some other location said to have a connection to Patrick where prayers were said and perhaps a mass was celebrated. Over time, markets and fairs began to arise coinciding with the feast day. During the Reformation, these civic events may have been used to disguise what was essentially an outlawed Roman Catholic celebration. In 1695, Parliament replaced many Catholic saints’ days with holidays based on Protestant teachings. St. Patrick’s Days was among them. The law was not strictly enforced and the Irish continued to celebrate the day by wearing a green ribbon or shamrock. In time, St. Patrick’s Day was returned to the calendar.
The day remained mainly a Catholic holy day, recognized with a morning mass. The Irish Free State (1922-1937) held military parades on March 17. Laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17 as late as the 1970s. When St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday, church calendars commonly moved it to Monday. When March 17th fell during Holy Week, the observance of the feast could even be moved to April. Beginning in 1995, however, the Irish government began a national campaign to use St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to increase tourism. Close to one million people now take part in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Festival. The five-day celebration features parades, concerts, street theater, family carnivals, comedy, street performances, dance, a treasure hunt, and fireworks culminating on March 17 with the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The largest celebration outside of Dublin is held in Downpatrick, County Down, where Saint Patrick is buried. Today, St. Patrick’s feast day is a national public holiday in Ireland.