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The religious roots of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland



The origins of St. Patrick’s Day

Every March, people in the city celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with booze, parties, parades and green garb. But the holiday — as the name suggests — actually has religious origins and at one time, much quieter celebrations.

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The Irish patron saint

Anthony Trindle, a visiting Irish language scholar in the Celtic Studies Program at the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College, explains. St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on March 17 each year, is a religious holiday celebrating one of Ireland’s three patron saints, Trindle said, who is credited with introducing Christianity to the nation.

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The life of St. Patrick

Commemorating the day on which St. Patrick died (in 465 AD), Trindle said he is believed to have been born in what is now Britain, when it was under Roman rule. “When he was about 16, he was captured by Irish pirates … (They) brought him back to Ireland where he was enslaved for several years,” Trindle said. “The story goes that he heard a voice from the heavens that told him to go back to Britain — back to his family. And so he did. He made a great journey. He escaped back to Britain … and eventually found his family again.

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“He started to study Christianity, and after several more years, he had a vision, which told him to come back to Ireland to bring Christianity to the Irish people … And it’s still believed that he was at least one of the first people to bring Christianity to Ireland, perhaps the very first person,” he explained.

The saint went on to found a monastery in Armagh, Northern Ireland. Today, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is at the site, Trindle said. St. Patrick is also behind the symbolism of the shamrock.

The history of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday celebrated in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Montserrat in the Caribbean, and Newfoundland in Canada. St. Patrick is also the patron saint of Nigeria, Trindle said. “In Ireland, I compare it to Good Friday,” Trindle said. “On Good Friday, pubs in Ireland would all close until (a few) years ago … It was considered a holy day. There would be no drinking, no pubs, no alcohol. “St. Patrick’s was actually the same until the 1970s,” he said.

The yearly parades — which are now “intrinsic to the holiday” actually originated in the United States, Trindle noted, with the first one taking place in New York in 1662. “The idea of the parade was kind of reinforced into Ireland from the U.S.,” he said. “The U.S. plays a very central part in how the whole world, and even how Ireland, views St. Patrick’s Day.”

In Toronto, the parade was banned in 1878 due to tensions between Catholics and Protestants, Trindle added, only returning in 1988. However, he noted that the holiday is celebrated across the religious sects.

St. Patrick’s Day in Toronto

This week most members of Ireland’s government are abroad, Trindle pointed out, using the holiday to promote Irish culture. The finance minister and health minister are in Canada, he said. And it’s now a tradition for the Irish prime minister to go to Washington, D.C., and give the American president a bowl of shamrocks.

This Sunday, community members will march along Bloor, Yonge and Queen streets for Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The event begins at noon at St. George Street and Bloor Street West, ending at Nathan Phillips Square. The line of march will last one and a half hours at any given point along the route. Among those present will be Ireland’s finance minister, Michael McGrath.

In preparation for the celebration, the TTC will be increasing service on subway Lines 1 and 2 on Sunday and diverting some service routes.

But the festivities will begin Friday.

The St. Patrick’s Loft Party at Blue Moon Brewery in Stackt Market returns at 5 p.m. after a three-year hiatus, offering “fast lines, more beer, organic vodka, giveaways” and more for a $20 entry fee. The market in the Fort York neighbourhood will also be hosting a “Feelin Lucky” day party for those 19 or older, starting at 4 p.m. Remaining tickets to the event cost about $25.

At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, there will also be live Celtic music performed by Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Tickets to the family-friendly event range from about $34 to $68.

The Black Pearl lounge, meanwhile, will be hosting Friday and Saturday events with 18 live musicians playing “Irish inspired tunes.” Entry is $10.

Next weekend, from Mar. 24 to 26 the Toronto Irish Film Festival will be back at TIFF Bell Lightbox for its 13th run. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12.50 for students and seniors.



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