St. Paddy’s Day Facts with Jack: Is the green bowtie invisible too?

March 17, 2017
Jack O'Donohue
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Everybody’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. But lucky (get it?!) for us, Jack O’Donohue is Irish every day.

Here’s what being Irish for a few decades has taught Jack, and now has taught the rest of us.

1. Irish USA > Irish Ireland

There are more Irish people in the US than there are in Ireland.

Like, A LOT more.

This depends on how you define “Irish,” of course. But if you go by US residents claiming Irish ancestry, the numbers are pretty heavily American.

According to Wikipedia:

About 33.3 million Americans—10.5% of the total population—reported Irish ancestry in the 2013…This compares with a population of 6.4 million on the island of Ireland.

So that means the red, white, and blue is 5.2-times as green as the green, white, and orange…right?

2. Wear green or get pinched

Have you ever gotten a pinch on the arm for not wearing green on St. Paddy’s Day?

That’s because Irish legend holds that wearing green makes one invisible to the mischievous fairies.

As the dubious legend dictates, leprechauns would pinch anyone not wearing green – so now people pinch those not wearing green to remind them.

There are some historical/political reasons for wearing green, too. But those aren’t as much fun as the leprechaun thing.

3. St. Paddy’s ain’t what it used to be

Saint Patrick’s Day is an official feast day, observed by Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran faiths. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.

As far as historians can tell, St. Patrick’s Day has been a major part of Irish culture for at least 400 years. But it was originally a religious feast day: much like Valentine’s Day is known in church as The Feast of Saint Valentine.

These feasts are celebrations like any other—occasions to gather and remember an important figure. To the 17th century Catholic church in Ireland, that definitely meant Saint Patrick (who isn’t actually a saint and whose name wasn’t actually Patrick).

But here’s where things get interesting:

St. Paddy’s Day happens on the day St. Paddy is believed to have died: March 17, 461 (yes, more than 1,500 years ago). And as any Catholic can tell you, March 17 is right smack dab in the middle of Lent—a season of strict fasting.

But the church decided to lift fasting restrictions on St. Paddy’s Day—they don’t call it a feast for nothing!

Drawing on writings by historian John Nagle and others, Wikipedia explains why the lifting of those restrictions is relevant today:

“Historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.”

Now we know why 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed in the US on St. Paddy’s Day!

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

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