AINT PATRICK'S DAY is a public and religious national holiday throughout Ireland. It is an occasion for religious ceremonies, going to mass or other denominational church services, wearing of shamrock, watching school rugby and gaelic football matches and attending low key cultural parades in towns. Even the large parade in Dublin is a small affair; most prominent public representatives and politicians, including the Irish Taoiseach are in Washington to attend the American President's celebration. There are pilgrimages made to Armagh, Saul, Downpatrick and Slemish which are all places associated with the saint.
The major celebrations are held in American cities and are closely linked to the nineteenth century Irish peasantry observances of Saint Patrick's Day.
Between 1801 and 1921, more than eight million people emigrated from Ireland. Most of the emigrants settled in USA, in the cities of Boston, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
These nineteenth century emigrants were not the first Irish people to settle in USA. During the early eighteenth century, prosperous Ulster Protestants emigrated. Given that Saint Patrick is very closely associated with Irish Catholic America today, the fist recorded festivities and Friendly societies associated with Saint Patrick in America were founded by Protestants. In most cases, Catholics were specifically banned from participation. The first documented meeting of Irishmen in America to honour Saint Patrick occurred in Boston on 17 March 1737. The Charitable Irish Society stipulated that its members lived in Boston and were Irish Protestants. By 1742, wealthy Catholic members had joined the Society.
New York was the venue for the first Saint Patrick's Day parade. In 1762, a group of Irish militia men were on their way to a Saint Patrick's Day tavern breakfast when they decided to march behind their band and display their regimental banners. The spectacle delighted participants and onlookers. So marching on 17 March to the sound of Irish tunes became an American way of life.
During the American War of Independence, military celebrations continued on 17 March. On 17 March 1776 the British evacuated the city of Boston and George Washington led the American rebels into the city to take possession. In 1778, Saint Patrick's Day was celebrated by Washington's army at Valley Forge.
It was not until the 1830s that the rural Catholic Irish arrived began to arrive in American cities. During the Irish Famine, people emigrated for survival. The longing for home turned into homesickness, which was sentimentalised in songs. Saint Patrick's Day provided the perfect occasion for the Irish to lament together their native homeland. It was an occasion to join together in celebrating their nationality. The military example had displayed the effectiveness of marching behind a band that was playing Irish airs which was enjoyed by spectators and marchers. Parading in green along the street and playing uplifting, rousing melodic music ensured an enjoyable occasion of patriotic self indulgence.
By the 1900s, second and third generation Irish Americans were established as an influential and powerful section of American society. The Saint Patrick's Day parade provided an opportunity for the community to celebrate not only its ethnic origin but also its successful integration into American society.
Today Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated throughout the world. There are parades in cities across Canada, Australia, Africa, Southern America and in many European capitals. The parades are secular, communal celebrations where the Saint and his life are forgotten.