By Mike Lavelle

St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated March 17th (which is the day of St. Patrick’s death in 461 AD). Like many celebrations, its history is colorful and full of changes and some mythology, much of it unintended. The focus on St. Patrick’s Day is to recognize St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and his influence on Ireland. His own personal story is interesting. He was born Maewyn Succat, a Roman citizen of Britain. According to St. Patrick, at the age of 16, he was captured by Irish raiders, who brought him to Ireland, as a slave. After six years, in which he worked as a shepherd in the fields of his “master” and converted to Christianity, he escaped back to England. As the result of his sense of calling, reinforced by dreams, he became a priest and, as he desired, was sent back to Ireland as a missionary, “to the land of my captivity,” as he wrote, in his “Confessions of St. Patrick.”

This experience of being enslaved apparently left a strong impression on St. Patrick as he is recognized as being a strong voice against slavery in his time, a time when even many Christian leaders accepted slavery (a practice that continued well into the middle ages). It would seem his own experience of being captured in such a raid gave him a clear understanding of the experience.

Aside from his “Confessions,” Patrick also penned “A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus,” (in which he excoriates and excommunicates them from the faith – because of their practice of slavery). Coroticus, better identified as Ceretic Guletic, variously called a warlord, general, king, or monarch, who, apparently, would slaughter and traffic Christians following their baptism, as Patrick writes “You gave away girls as prizes.” The implication is clear.

This is not why St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated, but it is interesting and does provide some background on a very influential historical figure. However, in the United States, why celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is interesting.

Due to the famines and poverty in Ireland, from the 1700s and on (and there are indications of Irish migration out of Ireland as far back as the middle ages), many Irish left Ireland their homeland. My own last name of Lavelle comes from a Gaelic name meaning “fond of movement or travel.” As my genetics tests confirm that my background is 75 percent Irish, (Irish grandparents), I, along with many, am connected to this diaspora (and, like many, was born in New York, where many Irish went, along with Boston, among other cities).


The Irish diaspora resulted in massive numbers of Irish leaving Ireland for other parts of the world. As Wikipedia reports since 1700 “between 9 and 10 million people born in Ireland have emigrated. This is more than the population of Ireland at its historical peak of 8.5 million in the 1840s. The poorest of them went to Great Britain, especially Liverpool; those who could afford it went farther, including almost 5 million to the United States. After 1765, emigration from Ireland became a short, relentless, and efficiently managed national enterprise. In 1890, 40% of Irish-born people were living abroad. An estimated 80 million people worldwide claim Irish roots, which includes more than 36 million Americans who claim Irish as their primary ethnicity.

With many Irish in the United States, as reported by, it is not a surprise that the first recorded St. Patrick’s Day was not in Ireland, but in Boston in 1737, followed by an “official” parade in New York in 1766. Other cites claim British soldiers celebrated in 1762, and cites a researcher who claims St Augustine, Florida held a St Patrick’s Day celebration in 1600 and its first parade in 1601.

As Wikipedia notes, “St. Patrick’s Day was often a bigger celebration among the diaspora than it was in Ireland” and today, it is the most widely observed national celebration in the world, since many Irish emigrated to other countries, to include, aside from the United States, Canada, Australia, and many other countries (to a lesser degree), but in such numbers that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia, among others, in some countries of Asia and the Caribbean, and even on the International Space Station.

St. Patrick’s Day has evolved away from a religious celebration (pubs were closed in Ireland until the 1970s), to being very influenced by American culture, which results in our modern St. Patrick’s Day, and influencing Ireland’s celebration!

Interestingly, in February we celebrated Black History Month, and in March, St. Patrick’s Day. There is a thread that joins these two events together. An enslaved person assumes the faith of his captors, in a foreign land, this faith becomes a source of strength and inspiration for many of those that follow, especially for the many who have left or were removed from their homeland in a diaspora.

Perhaps as we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, at a time when there is much divisiveness in our country, we could remember that all of us come from peoples who came from many other places and that even among those of us who have very different backgrounds, there may be some things that tie us together. The traditional Irish 4 leaf clover is said to represent hope, faith, love and luck.

As we honor St. Patrick, and celebrate one culture that influenced America, we can be reminded that many of those who came before us came with hope for a better life, a faith to sustain them in hard times, the love of family, and, in a very Irish manner, a respectful nod to lady luck (to be on her good side

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Lucretia Free