‘Saint Patrick’s Day,’ is a jovial holiday in my family. As a child, my mother dressed me in green bell bottom slacks, an itchy wool green sweater, topped with a long green coat, shamrock pin and then shipped me off to school. One year, when I entered the classroom, my friend asked me if I was Irish. I answered no. She studied me and then asked why I wore green clothes. I told her it was fun. I had no idea why I wore green or why we celebrated this holiday. All I knew is I couldn’t wait until dinner to eat corned beef and cabbage. I wasn’t a fan of corned beef, but I enjoyed the cabbage and boiled potatoes. I still smell the aroma in my parents kitchen.
I’m not a cook and when I tell people this, they can’t believe I’m Italian and cannot make a plate of baked ziti. Sure, I know how to make tomato sauce and meatballs, (if you call them meatballs,) but other than that, ask me to cook something else and we’ll probably have to call for takeout. So, to be frank, I never cooked corned beef and cabbage. There’s a diner near my home and my husband and I go there every year for the Saint Patrick’s Day meal. Also, before my mother-in-law passed away, she had us over on the holiday and cooked us a delicious Saint Patrick’s Day meal with homemade Irish soda bread. I taste those sweet raisins in my memory.
My husband’s uncle visited Ireland years ago and when he asked where he could find a good restaurant to eat corned beef and cabbage, he had been told that the locals wouldn’t know what he was referring to. It is called bacon in some areas.
All these memories are fun, however; I asked myself, who was Saint Patrick and what is this holiday really about? Do people know why we celebrate this holiday, or do they just get excited to eat and drink? I did my own research, but before I share with you what I discovered, I also interviewed a few people who asked to remain anonymous. This is what they shared:
“Do you know who Saint Patrick was and why we celebrate him?”
Interviewee: “Sure, he was a patron saint from Ireland and to celebrate his life we eat corned beef and cabbage and wear green.”
“Hmm. Anything else?”
Second anonymous person.
“Why do we celebrate Saint Patrick? What had he done that’s important.”
Interviewee: “He drove all the snakes out of Ireland and became a priest.”
“Do you have anything else to add?”
Third anonymous person.
“Do you know why we celebrate Saint Patrick?”
Interviewee: I don’t know.
It makes sense why they wanted to remain anonymous. Although, legend has it that he was celebrated for driving snakes out of Ireland, this story has never been authenticated and in my opinion, a myth.
When I did my research, I was pleasantly surprised at the information I learned.
Saint Patrick was believed to have been born in Britain, but his exact birthplace is unknown. His actual name had been Maewyn Succat. As a teenager he was kidnapped by pirates, sold to slavery in Ireland and tended sheep on a mountain. In his captivity he became fluent with the Irish language and accustomed to the people. He found comfort in God, and after six long years of slavery, he had a dream sent from God to escape Ireland by going to the coast where he’d find a ship to Britain. He did just that. After reuniting with his parents, he later traveled to France and became a priest and took the name Patrick.
As a priest, Patrick had another dream where the Irish were calling to him. That was when he returned to the Irish people, taught them Christianity and they then converted. His date of death has been debated, but is believed to be March 17th, 460.
Here’s what I learned about the tradition of corned beef and cabbage:
Years ago, when Irish immigrants came to America, they found corned beef and cabbage less expensive and substituted beef for pork and cabbage in place of potato. Also, the shamrock was worn in Ireland as a symbol of the cross. I couldn’t find anything of substance on the legend of Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland, and I would’ve liked to know how that story came about.
Whether or not the information I provided from my research is accurate, we’ll never know since it had been long before our time. My belief is Saint Patrick was an innocent young man taken from his family and sold to slavery. He found comfort in prayer became a priest and taught his teachings to the people who kept him in captivity.
As a Catholic, I admire Saint Patrick for his courage in returning to Ireland. I will remember this going forward and celebrate the Saint not the meal.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.
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