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Myths, Legends and other St. Patrick's Day trivia

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

With St. Patrick's Day approaching Sunday, it may be time to explore some of the myths, legends and anecdotes about the saint and his day.

A perusal of the web is responsible for most of the information provided here. In an earlier time several hours in the public library was devoted to gathering such information. Technology has its place, from time to time.

At any rate, St. Patrick, it turns out, wasn't Irish. He was born in Britain of privileged parents sometime around 385-390 AD. The story goes that his life changed when he was kidnapped and sent overseas to work on an Irish sheep farm for seven years. That was when he got religion, in particular Christianity.

He returned to Britain, but then had an epiphany of sorts and returned to convert the Irish to Christianity. It was a tough calling and Patrick died on March 17, 461, mostly forgotten. Mythology developed about him and he became patron saint of Ireland, according to a National Geographic article.

St. Patrick's Day was celebrated by the Irish in the 9th and 10th centuries. It was made an official feast day in the early 1600s. In 1903 St. Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland.

It gravitated from a religious oriented day in the mid-1990s when the Irish government began a campaign to use the day to showcase Ireland and its culture. The event grew in the 21st century to a festival lasting five days and celebrated in cities all over Ireland, according to Wikipedia.

St. Patrick's Day is not a legal holiday anywhere in the United States but in the melting pot known as America, the day's celebration may have developed more as a way to recognize one's Irish heritage than anything saintly.

As early as the mid-1700s Irish soldiers in the British Army marched through New York City honoring their Irish roots, according to one historian.

In nearby St. Paul, the idea for a St. Patrick's Day parade was hatched in 1967 by family friend, the late Bob Gallivan at his downtown restaurant during a bitter cold day of the Winter Carnival.

However, before the start of the official parade we know now got underway, there were "unofficial" celebrations of the day at such watering holes as O'Gara's in the earlier 1960s.

I know from personal experience that a blizzard on March 17, 1965, that dumped 12 inches of snow in 24 hours on St. Paul did not stop a couple erstwhile college students from Macalester from trekking several blocks down Snelling Avenue to join the fun at O'Gara's, but that's another story.

The next St. Pat's Day, March 17, 1966, the thermometer hit 68 degrees and the snow was gone. It made the journey much more pleasant.

In those days we honored St. Patrick for driving the snakes out of Ireland, which seemed like as good a reason as any to down a wee dram or two.

The myth has since been debunked. Scientists confirm there are no snakes in Ireland. They also point out there never were any on the Emerald Isle, more likely due to the Ice Age and the frigid ocean surrounding it.

One interesting fact emerged on this search through the web. The shortest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world occurred at Dripsey, County Cork in 1997, just 100 yards long between the two pubs in the village.

So the day has come to be honored by Irish and non-Irish alike, Catholic or Protestant Christians, Pagan or Jew (as the old Irish song goes), with traditional libations such as Guinness Stout, Harp Lager, Bushmills and Jameson, corn beef and cabbage (American), soda bread (Irish), wearing of the green (everybody), song and dance (the world).

It's a day when everybody is either Irish or wishes they were.