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St. Patrick's Day Myths

Donate Today's quiz tests whether you've been skeptical of what you think you know about St. Patrick's Day.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under History & Pseudohistory

Skeptoid Podcast #875
March 14, 2023
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St. Patrick's Day Myths

Today we have for you another of Skeptoid's dreaded and infamous pop quizzes. It's not strictly just for fun, and it's not just because it's St. Patrick's Day and we needed a theme. It's really to test how consistently you apply skepticism in your life. Today we're going to see if you are one who has credulously accepted everything they've ever heard about St. Patrick's Day, or if you put everything through the filter of skepticism. Of course you may be one who knows almost nothing about St. Patrick's Day other than you're supposed to wear green and will likely go out for beer after work; and if that's you, then today you can learn much of the truth behind the holiday, and stump your friends, and get them to buy that beer for you.

Before we get to today's "true or false" quiz questions, I want to give a very abbreviated history of St. Patrick's day. Some of the questions have to do with historical associations of various symbols with the holiday, so this quick review will let us better define what we mean by a historical association. Today, St. Patrick's Day is a big drinking party. We drink green beer, we wear green, and the bars put up leprechaun and four-leafed clover decorations. The day celebrates Irish culture. But this was not always the case. These traditions only arose when large numbers of Irish people began immigrating into the United States, mostly in the 1700s and 1800s. They'd left their culture behind them, so they revived it once a year with parades and celebrations. Back in their native Ireland, though, St. Patrick's Feast Day had been very different. It was very much a religious holiday, and was spent at church or at home in quiet prayer, and there was — of course — the traditional family feast. Then in the 1900s, the Irish American "green beer party" version began to influence the Irish version, and the first St. Patrick's Day Parade was held in Waterford in 1903.

So for the purposes of today's questions, a "historical association" with St. Patrick's Day refers to the original Irish religious holiday prior to the 20th century, and not to today's modern green beer fest. So with that in mind, let's dive right in with our first myth:

1. St. Patrick was Irish.

This is perhaps the most obvious thing one might know about St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and the single person in history most closely associated with Ireland. But is it true or false?

Reveal the answer

2. St. Patrick was associated with the three-leafed shamrock.

Hardly any mention of St. Patrick's Day avoids bringing shamrocks into the conversation. Shamrocks are everywhere when we celebrate, so clearly they must have a strong connection, right?

Reveal the answer

3. St. Patrick was associated with the four-leafed clover.

Well, if St. Patrick had a connection with the three-leafed shamrock, then it would have been even luckier if he had one with the four-leafed clover as well. Is it true or false?

Reveal the answer

4. Leprechauns have a historical association with St. Patrick's Day.

It's clear that leprechauns have a modern association — heck, they're all over every bar serving green beer — but is it true that that association goes way back to the days of the original prayerful feasting?

Reveal the answer

5. St. Patrick introduced Catholicism to Ireland.

He is the patron saint of Ireland, and one doesn't receive such an honor unless one did something pretty big and good. Like, for example, introducing Christianity to an entire island nation. Did he?

Reveal the answer

6. Green has a historical association with St. Patrick's Day.

There is literally nothing that's not green on St. Patrick's Day. If it's not green already, then it gets dyed green — like the beer, and like the Chicago River — which has inspired other cities to do the same. So, clearly, green must have some deep historical association with the day, right?

Reveal the answer

7. But you shouldn't wear orange.

While you are expected to wear green, there are those who say you shouldn't wear orange. Is this true or false?

Reveal the answer

8. St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.

Most mentions you'll find of this online dismiss it out of hand, saying it's false that he ever did any such thing. In fact, you're probably more likely to hear that it's false than you are to hear the story of him doing it. However, most such legends have a grain of truth to them. Did St. Patrick do anything that would be construed today as having driven away Ireland's snakes?

Reveal the answer

And those are all the St. Patrick's Day myths we have time for today. Hopefully you got them all right; and if you did, I raise a green beer in your honor. And on this special day, I say to all who celebrate:

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort!


By Brian Dunning

Please contact us with any corrections or feedback.

 

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "St. Patrick's Day Myths." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 14 Mar 2023. Web. 21 May 2024. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4875>

 

References & Further Reading

Cronin, M., Adair, D. The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick's Day. London: Routledge, 2002.

Department of the Taoiseach. Constitution of Ireland: Article 7. Dublin: Department of the Taoiseach, 1937.

Freeman, P. Transcription of the Latin writings of St. Patrick from seven medieval manuscripts (Dublin, Paris, London, Rouen, Aaras, Salisbury). Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008.

Koch, J. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2006.

Treeck, C., Croft, A. Symbols in the Church. Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1960.

Warfield, D. Bonnie Blue Flag. Dublin: Derek Warfield, 2003.

Wilde, J. Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2006.

 

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