Remember Immigrant History In Honor Of Saint Paddy's Day

St. Patrick's Day celebrates the Irish, and their immigrant history in the USA. It falls on the same day every year, to honor St. Patrick on the day he died: March 17, in the year 461. And while the city of Boston, Massachusetts has claimed to have hosted the first St. Paddy's Day celebration in the United States, Ireland has been celebrating as early as the 10th century. Although, Ireland has always treated March 17 as a somber, holy day of remembrance.

In 2024, those living in Ireland have the day off for their national holiday, but most aren't celebrating like the United States does. These days, St. Patrick's Day is associated with parades, beer, corned beef and hash, potatoes, 4 leaf clovers and tiny men called leprechauns. In the United States, but particularly in Boston's South End- or "Southie" as locals refer to the area- St. Patrick's Day is a huge deal. Streets remain closed for parades, local watering holes like bars and pubs get just as crowded as the streets do, rivers and beer get dyed green, and the Boston police department prepare for an entire weekend filled with breaking up bar fights.

Across the Atlantic, those in Ireland's major cities have the same events that draws tourists, but most locals across Ireland continue to go to church, stay at home to feast with family or travel abroad... So why the stark contrast? If the holiday originated in Ireland, shouldn't the United States celebrate like the Irish do? The simple reason is because St. Patrick's Day in the United States evolved out of necessity. It reminded Irish-Americans to be proud of their Irish heritage, despite persecution. Today, it allows us to celebrate the Irish people who emigrated the United States centuries ago.


Celebrating immigrant history on St. Paddy's Day

You might have heard of this British man, who has been credited with spreading Christianity to the emerald isle, and of course, with "driving the snakes out of Ireland." Flash forward a few centuries, and the first St. Patrick's Day celebration was held in Boston on March 17, 1737.

At that time, these original "parades" were very simplistic, very small, and very religious. Most notable though, these small processions were ignored by the Anglo-Saxon/ Protestant population in the United States. This is important, because Catholics had been warring with Protestants back in Europe. Flash forward a couple of years later to Ireland's potato famine of 1845, and thus begins the first major emigration event to the United States. They called it "The Great Atlantic Migration"... and for good reasons, too. In the 100 years between the end of the Napoleonic Wars (from 1799-1815) and the start of World War 1, over 6 million Irish-Catholic immigrants made the journey across the Atlantic to Boston.

Anti Irish immigrant cartoon

An offensive, anti-Irish immigrant cartoon from 1867

As the Irish-Catholic population began to grow in the United States, its' protestant colonial cities became overwhelmed. Soon, the rise of anti-catholicism, religious persecution and Irish prejudice grew in the United States. Unwelcome in establishments, "Irish need not apply" and brutality against the Irish was the norm. Prejudiced Americans mocked the Irish, and even went so far as to corrupt St. Patrick's Day. By 1799, protestants were parading through Irish neighborhoods on March 17, shouting harmful stereotypes while carrying "Paddy's."A Paddy was a wildly offensive image of an Irish person, that was dressed in rags, with potatoes around the neck, and covered in molasses and whiskey.

Most of the outraged Irish immigrants retreated to institutions that were set up to protect them. Such as the Catholic church and Irish-nationalist movements like the Ancient Order of Hibernians (A.O.H). The A.O.H gained popularity in Irish communities by centering itself within issues like social and economic justice and self defense. The A.O.H was critical in shaping St. Patrick's day into what we now know - a vibrant, joyous celebration of immigrant history in the United States. So this St. Paddy's Day, make sure to remember all the Irish-American immigrants that  paved the way for this officially-unofficial holiday.


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Molly Romano Remote Copywriter

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