St. Patrick’s Day parades are more North American than Irish: The Irish diaspora in Boston and New York City first held St. Patrick’s Day parades in 1737 and 1762, respectively. Montreal boasts one of the longest continually running parades, first launched in 1824. But the day did not become a holiday in Ireland until 1903, and the first parade in the Irish Free State was held in the 1930s.
St. Patrick isn’t even Irish: Though Patrick (~390-451) is the primary patron saint of Ireland and did most of his missionary work on the island, it is believed the man was born in modern-day Britain.
It wasn’t always about green pints: The feast day of Saint Patrick was celebrated in Ireland, most often with mass and prayer, since the middle ages. With the day falling in the midst of the Catholic festival of Lent, when believers give up their vices, the day was often treated as a reprieve and chance to have a pint or two. But politicians deemed the drinking out of hand and ordered pubs to be closed on March 17 from the early twentieth century until the 1970s.
In fact, Ireland wishes it wasn’t about green pints: In 1995, the Irish government established the St. Patrick’s Festival to essentially re-brand their national holiday on the world stage. Among the stated objectives is “to project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal.”
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny is rejecting a St. Patrick’s message from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott that focuses on wearing green and singing. Kenny has said the PM is promoting a “stage Irish perception.”
Corned beef and cabbage is American-Irish: Like the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the meal believed to be the ultimate in traditional Irish fare has its roots in American-Irish communities. Pork has traditionally been more widely-available, and more popular on the Emerald Isle.