March 17, 2017

Saint Patrick's Day Symbols and Legends

[source: The Sudburystar]

Seen as cranky tricksters with hidden pots of gold in Celtic folklore, leprechauns had nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day until 1959, when Walt Disney released Darby O’Gill & the Little People.

The film featured a cheerful, friendly leprechaun who quickly evolved into a symbol of both St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland.

Celtic Cross

When St. Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity, he was successful because he didn't try to make the Irish forget their old beliefs. The true origin of this symbol seems to be unknown. However, legends tell of St. Patrick combining the sun cross, a powerful pagan symbol, with the Christian cross to create a new symbol of Christianity.


Legend says St. Patrick was once served a less-than-full measure of whiskey at an inn. To teach the innkeeper a lesson, St. Patrick claimed there was a devil who fed on dishonesty in the inn’s basement.

Upon return, he found filled glasses and banished the demon, proclaiming everyone should have a drop of the “hard stuff” on his feast day.


Legends have always claimed St. Patrick banished all snakes from Ireland.

In fact, there were never snakes on the island. “Banishing of the snakes” seems to be a metaphor for the eradication of paganism and the triumph of Christianity.


Although blue was originally associated with St. Patrick, green ribbons and shamrocks were worn to celebrate him as early as the 17th century.

Ireland’s national colour has been green since the 19th century and Ireland is often referred to as the Emerald Isle.

Corned beef and cabbage

Though St. Patrick’s Day fell during Lent, the ban on eating meat was waived in the past and people would dance, drink and feast on Irish bacon and cabbage.

In the 19th century, poor Irish immigrants couldn’t afford Irish bacon and substituted cheaper corned beef instead. The change in meat holds to this day.


According to legend, St. Patrick used three-leaf shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish people.

They are also symbols of good luck, Irish nationalism and the rebirth of spring.

Four-leaf shamrocks are thought to bring extremely good luck as they are so rare.


The harp is an ancient musical instrument used in Ireland for centuries.

Although not as recognizable as the shamrock, the harp is a widley used symbol, appearing on coins, the presidential flag, uniforms, official documents, and the world famous Guinness Beer.

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