12 St. Patrick’s Day “Facts” That Are Actually False
How much do you know about the history of St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Many of these popular St. Patrick's Day "facts" actually aren't true.
False fact: St. Patrick was Irish
This is a common St. Patrick’s Day fact that seems like a no-brainer. However, the patron saint of Ireland was actually born in Scotland in the late fourth century. When he was a teenager, Palladius (his real name) was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. Six years later, he escaped and went back to Scotland, where he joined a monastery. As an adult, Palladius returned to Ireland as a missionary, where he lived for 40 years, dying in A.D. 461. He’s just one of many historical figures you’ve probably been picturing wrong.
False fact: March 17th was St. Patrick’s birthday
A saint’s feast day marks the day that they died, not the day that they were born. St. Patrick’s Day 2021 marks the 1,560th anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. In addition to these false St. Patrick’s Day facts, we bet you didn’t know these surprising facts about the month of March.
False fact: St. Patrick was a canonized saint
This St. Patrick’s Day fact seems like it would be true, and surprises people when they find out it’s not. The process of officially canonizing saints didn’t become common practice in the Church until long after St. Patrick’s death. During St. Patrick’s lifetime, “saint” was not an official title bestowed only on those whom the Pope deemed worthy. It was instead more of a general title that would be assigned to people who lived especially holy lives or performed acts of martyrdom. Get the lingo right and learn the meaning behind the common St. Patrick’s Day saying, Erin Go Bragh.
False fact: Green is the color of St. Patrick’s Day
This one of the more popular St. Patrick’s Day facts that just isn’t true. Although green is the color most associated with Ireland (it is the “Emerald Isle” after all), it’s not St. Patrick’s color. Members of the Order of St. Patrick actually used blue as their symbolic color. The shade: St. Patrick’s blue. Here’s more about why we wear green on March 17.
False fact: St. Patrick used the shamrock to represent the Holy Trinity
Yes, the shamrock has three leaves—but there’s no historical evidence that St. Patrick/Palladius used it as a symbol to demonstrate Christianity. In fact, it’s unlikely he introduced Christianity to the Emerald Isle at all, a feat with which he is often attributed. In the fifth century AD, the Pope sent Palladius to Ireland with the mission of preaching to “the Irish believing in Christ.” So he didn’t introduce Christianity to Ireland…he really just helped it along. As for the shamrock, Palladius may well have used it to represent the Holy Trinity, but the shamrock already had symbolic significance in pagan traditions as well. Green was an important color to paganism because it represented rebirth, and the number three was as much a staple of paganism as it is of Christianity. Many pagan religions have three primary gods.
False fact: It’s easy to find a four-leaf clover
You might need to find an alternative for good luck. The odds of finding a four-leaf clover are about 1 in 10,000. Contrary to popular belief, it’s more difficult than you think to find a four-leaf clover. Here are some potentially more reliable St. Patrick’s Day traditions that will bring you luck.
False fact: St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a party-hearty holiday
The truth lies right there in the name: Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s a feast day for a Catholic saint, best known for converting native Irish people to Christianity. Until the 1700s, it was a day in the Catholic calendar in observance of a saint important to and popular in Ireland…and not much anywhere else. And even in Ireland, Catholics honored St. Patrick with prayer and quiet reflection. St. Patrick’s Day, as we know it today, started in America in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the large numbers of newly arrived Irish immigrants began using the day as a way to celebrate their Irish heritage.
False fact: Many of today’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions started in Ireland
A St. Patrick’s Day fact people often get wrong is that many of this day’s traditions started in Ireland. Many St. Paddy’s Day traditions that we may think of as traditionally Irish actually originated in the United States. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade, for instance, occurred in New York City in 1782, and it became an annual event in 1848. Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 1931 that Ireland held an official St. Patrick’s Day parade. And as for alcohol consumption, it was not a staple of the holiday in Ireland by any means. In fact, until the 1960s, pubs in Ireland were closed on March 17, in observance of the religious holiday. A little different from America’s celebrations.
False fact: Eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day is an Irish tradition
Up until the 20th century, pork was much cheaper to raise, and of course eat, for the average family in Ireland. Corned beef is historically unheard of in Ireland (although salt-cured beef was an occasional meal). Like the holiday’s modern celebration, eating corned beef started in the late 19th century. Irish immigrants bought corned beef from Jewish delis in New York City instead of the more common (in Ireland) St. Patrick’s Day meat of cured pork (ham, bacon).
False fact: St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland
This St. Patrick’s Day fact stems from stories. Legend has it that St. Patrick gave a rousing sermon that sent all of Ireland’s snakes slithering off into the ocean. If only it were that easy. The Emerald Isle owes its lack of serpents not to St. Patrick but to the Ice Age and geography. The shifting glaciers of the last Ice Age left Ireland surrounded by water, making it impossible for snakes to reach it. Before then, the land that would become Ireland was far too cold for the cold-blooded creatures to survive. You can’t banish snakes from somewhere where there were no snakes to begin with. We bet you never knew these words had Gaelic origins.
False fact: Leprechauns are directly related to St. Patrick’s Day
More people don red beards and green hats on St. Patrick’s Day than on any other day of the year, and yet leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day really aren’t related, aside from the fact that they’re both Irish. Leprechauns didn’t become a staple of Irish literature until many years after St. Patrick’s famed journey through Ireland.
False fact: There are female leprechauns
Even though many decorations around St. Patrick’s Day may show female leprechauns, traditional leprechauns are only male. In the “Fairy Legends” book published in 1825, the text read: “Since that time leprechauns seem to be entirely male and solitary.”