Many millions of people will take to the streets today to celebrate all things Irish – in honour of the emerald isle’s patron Saint Patrick. This particular saint’s day provides the cue – like none other of his saintly brothers and sisters – for street parties and raucous celebration the world over. Revellers don green clothes and costumes, marching in parades and often drinking heavily to mark the day.
Part of the reason for the global reach of St Patrick’s Day is the sustained and massive emigration of many Irish folk over the last few centuries, looking for opportunity and proposerity afresh, having turned their backs on poverty and rigorous social conservatism. Now there is hardly a corner of the globe where an Irish heart does not beat.
In St Patrick’s honour, landmark monuments around the world are lit up with green. Green features on the Irish tricoleur flag, but this has only been the case since 1801. However, the colour green has been associated with the ancient Isle of Erin for centuries, experiencing a resurgence during the rising Irish nationalism of the 1900s, as a reaction against the red, white, and blue of the British Union Jack.
St. Patrick’s Day started as a religious holiday honouring the legend of St Patrick. The fifth century preacher is thought to have brought Christianity to Ireland, and cast away all snakes from the land after they attacked him during a 40-day fast.
Over the many centuries, however, St Patrick’s Day has evolved from a niche religious celebration to a global celebration of all things Irish. St Patrick also happens to be the patron saint of Nigeria, Montserrat, Boston, and of the archdiocese of New York – and of engineers.
The Irish diaspora is among the largest in the world, accounting for 10% of the population of the United States. It was Irish-Americans, unsurprisingly, that pioneered the propulsion of St. Patrick’s Day to its current status.
In Boston, Massachusetts, the heart of the Irish-American population, the city’s residents mark the day in spectacular fashion. The world-famous parade marches through the city, delighting thousands who line the streets to watch, and even take part.
Other American cities hold spectacular celebrations, with mid-western metropolis Chicago dyeing the Chicago river green to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Monuments around the world are lit up with green lights, from the pyramids of Egypt, to Niagara Falls, and South Africa’s Table Mountain.
St. Patrick Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Montserrat. Though not a public holiday in Nigeria, the almost 20 million strong Catholic population ensures that it is celebrated.
Top Irish diplomats in Nigeria’s capital Abuja and its largest city, Lagos, lead celebrations, though not parades. Nigeria actually overtook Ireland in Guinness stout sales back in 2007, the quintessentially Irish beer becoming a key staple in the West African country.
In the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat, the island’s 5000 residents don green and parade through the streets. It is estimated that Americans will spend $4.4 billion on St. Patrick’s Day this year – as much as was spent during Thanksgiving.