St. Patrick's Day: Fact vs. Fiction

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Times indeed have changed. According to Mahony, Irish pubs used to be closed on two days of the year: Good Friday and St. Patrick's Day. "So ironically enough, in Ireland until recently, on St. Patrick's Day you couldn't get a drink!"

Mahony recalls one notable exception from her student days at University College in Dublin. The annual Irish dog show was held on March 17 and was given a license to sell alcohol. "It was amazing the number of people who developed a fondness for dogs on that particular day," Mahony said.

Another misconception is the association of St. Patrick with the color green, Mahony said. The confusion perhaps arises from the phrase "the wearing of the green," which meant to wear a shamrock. St. Patrick used the three-leaved plant to explain the Trinity of the Christian religion.

In contrast, the original color assigned to St. Patrick was blue, Mahony said. This color, St. Patrick's blue, can be seen on ancient Irish flags and on the uniforms the Irish special forces wear to this day.

As the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick is credited for bringing Christianity to the island. Yet St. Patrick himself remains in a mysterious fog of fact and legend.

No one can pinpoint the exact dates of St. Patrick's birth or death or where he originally was born, Mahony said. It is generally agreed that he was captured in his youth and sold into slavery, probably in the fifth century, in Ireland. "There is a combination of history and myth that is very difficult to sort out," Mahony said.

From Haggerty's perspective, it is clear from the stories, whether true or not, how St. Patrick won over the hearts of the Irish. "One of the things that endears him to the Irish … was the fact that, because he had been enslaved [in Ireland], he had learned the language and so he could preach to them in Irish."

The degree to which St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in the United States initially was a shock to Haggerty. Growing up an Irish Roman Catholic in the heart of Protestant England had been quite a challenge. "I didn't particularly care for being Irish when I was a kid," Haggerty said. "It took a long time to absorb the fact that [the U.S.] really, really loves its Irish heritage … That's something to be really admired."

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