Saint Patrick’s Day: A History

Kathryn Walker '26

On March 17th, we will once again be celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. Have you ever wondered why we do this? What is the history behind this day? Why is it so widely celebrated? Who exactly was Saint Patrick? 

The little we know about Saint Patrick comes mainly from his own two books, Letter to Coroticus and Confessio, the latter of which is his autobiography. 

Saint Patrick was a missionary born near the end of the fourth century. Ironically, he wasn’t even Irish– despite his association with the country. In fact, he came from a wealthy Romano-British family. When Patrick was only 16 years old, he was kidnapped into slavery by a band of Irish raiders. He spent six years in Ireland as a slave, condemned to the work of a herdsman. During this time, Patrick began to rely heavily on his faith to get him through it. 

One night, he dreamed that God was speaking to him, telling him to escape captivity. Soon after, he fled and made the long and strenuous journey back to his family in England. In his autobiography, Patrick details another dream in which an angel called him back to Ireland to evangelize. He spent the next 15 years in England, training to become a priest, before making his way back to Ireland. During his time in England, he worked hard to complete his mission by spreading his message and converting and baptizing many. Because of this, he is often credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, though this contradicts the second part of his mission: to minister to existing Christians there. 

Various miracles he has reportedly performed include raising as many as 33 people from the dead, as well as driving all of the snakes in Ireland into the sea. Some also say he played a role in bringing the Latin alphabet into Ireland. He is associated with the shamrock because of his teachings; he often incorporated traditional Irish symbols and beliefs into them to help people better understand and relate to his messages, the three leaves representing the Holy Trinity. Although Saint Patrick was never formally canonized, as there was no official canonization process at the time, he is still known as one of the most famous patron saints of Ireland.

Now that you know who he is, you may be asking yourself: why do we celebrate him every year? His feast day is the 17th of March, and the holiday began as just that: a feast day. However, this day has evolved over time into a celebration of Irish culture. Irish immigrants who came to the United States played a significant role in the spread of this story. Nowadays, the narrative is much less associated with its former religious traditions. Despite its Irish roots, Saint Patrick’s Day is most popular in the United States– typically only celebrated in Ireland to appeal to tourists. Nevertheless, some of Ireland’s Roman-Catholics continue to preserve its original religious meaning and traditions.


Works Cited Editors. “St. Patrick’s Day: Origins, Meaning & Background – History.” HISTORY, A&E Television NetworksA&E Television Networks, 14 Oct. 2009,

O’Raifeartaigh, Tarlach. “St. Patrick”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Dec. 2022,

Ray, Michael. “St. Patrick’s Day”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Mar. 2016,