Ryde Social Heritage Group research the social history of the citizens of Ryde, Isle of Wight. Documenting their lives, businesses and burial transcriptions.
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St Patrick’s Day

Slemish in County Antrim

March 17th is a national holiday in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Eire and is celebrated as the Feast Day of St Patrick by Irish people all over the world. Like all characters from ancient history there is a problem with sorting factual evidence from legendary associations and much about Patrick’s life has been retold verbally, documented and added to over the centuries. Most Irish people grow up hearing tales of St Patrick which they in turn retell and although they may vary in their detail the broad outlines are similar.

Patrick lived during the late fourth and early fifth centuries in either West Wales or Cumbria. His family were early British Christians. When he was 16 Patrick was captured by raiding barbarian Irish pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. For 6 years he worked tending sheep on Slemish mountain. (Slemish is an extinct volcano and a distinctive landmark in North Antrim.) Life as a slave was tough but Patrick’s Christian faith helped to sustain him. Finally he managed to escape on a ship with a cargo of Irish wolfhounds. He decided to dedicate his life to God, went to France, joined a monastery and was eventually made a bishop. At this point he received a call from God in a dream that he should go back to Ireland on a mission to convert the heathens there to Christianity.

When Patrick reached Ireland it was the time of the pagan Spring festival. As part of the celebration from darkness to light, all fires were extinguished, the High King then lit a fire on the Hill of Tara and later everyone else relit their fires from the King’s Tara fire. Patrick defied the king by lighting his own fire during the dark period. Patrick was brought before the king to be executed but he was given a chance to explain himself and fortunately was successful in converting the High King to Christianity, which in turn meant the High King demanded all others to listen to this new religion too. Patrick was given permission to continue his mission, travel throughout Ireland and build the first Christian churches.

As part of the High King’s conversion, Patrick picked a shamrock and used its three leaves to demonstrate the concept of the Holy Trinity and so this little plant became the national symbolic flower of Ireland.

The flag of St Patrick is a diagonal red cross on a white background but rarely used today. This flag was combined with the flags of St George and St Andrew to create the Union Flag.

The tomb of St Patrick is at Downpatrick in Northern Ireland where there is also a large cathedral.

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated with parades, fairs, parties, dances and the promotion of everyone generally having a good time! Traditions include ‘the wearing of the green’ (any green clothing) and wearing a shamrock which will bring good luck for the rest of the year. Some people also like to ‘drown the shamrock’ (preferably by drinking Guinness or Irish whiskey!)

The Isle of Wight Observer from March 15th 1919 recorded the following promotion:-

ST PATRICK’S BALL.- We would draw special attention to the Grand Fancy Dress Ball to be held in the Town Hall on Monday night (St Patrick’s Day). It is a Peace Ball and will be one of the most notable events of the season. Mr W Newman the popular MC, has spared no pains to organise it thoroughly and the prizes which are on view in the window of Mr W E Weeks, Union Street are very attractive and will undoubtedly be keenly competed for. A most enjoyable time can be confidently assured. The tickets are 3s. 6d. single 6s. double (lady and gentleman) including refreshments and dancing will take place from 8 pm to 3 am.

Image: Slemish in County Antrim where Patrick is said to have worked as a shepherd while a slave, from Wikipedia.