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The Irish Diaspora and St. Patrick’s Day


On March 17th, Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day – but who exactly was its patron saint; and what is the significance of the ‘Irish diaspora’ that is frequently referred to? 

St. Patrick

St. Patrick is one of the world’s most popular saints – and there are many legends associated with him. He was born in Britain during the Roman era circa 387 AD; one legend suggests that when he was fourteen, he was captured by Irish pirates during a raiding party and taken to Ireland as a slave to herd sheep at Slemish Mountain, in County Antrim.

Patrick’s captivity lasted until he was twenty; he apparently had a dream in which God spoke to him, saying, “Your ship is ready”. Patrick was then able to escape Ireland by going to the coast. There he found some sailors who took him to Britain and was reunited with his family.

A few years after returning home, Patrick had another dream which prompted his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years, and was later ordained a bishop and sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.

Patrick arrived in Slane, Ireland on March 25th, 433. There are several versions about what happened next; with arguably the most prominent claiming he met the chieftain of one of the druid tribes, who tried to kill him. After an intervention from God, Patrick was able to convert the chieftain to Christianity and preach the Gospel throughout Ireland. He converted thousands of others – and he began to build many churches across the land.

Patrick often used shamrocks to explain the Holy Trinity and entire Irish kingdoms were eventually converted to Christianity after hearing Patrick’s message. After years of spreading the Gospel, he died on March 17th, 461 – his feast day, now better known as St. Patrick’s Day. Patrick is believed to be buried in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, and his grave is marked with a granite stone.

Celebrations across the World

Each year, millions of people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. It is a national holiday in Ireland when many people gather with family and participate in the various parades held across Ireland, with the main one in Dublin. In recent years, other countries around the world have joined in the celebrations, with rivers such as Vilnia in Lithuania and the Chicago River being dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; while famous world landmarks such as the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and the London Eye have turned emerald green for the occasion!

Did you know?

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in the United States – by Irish soldiers serving in the British army in New York City on March 17, 1762!

The Irish Diaspora

‘Diaspora’ (from the Greek word ‘to scatter’) is defined as any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland. The term ‘Irish diaspora’ first became commonly used during the 1990s mainly thanks to President Mary Robinson – who used the phrase to describe Irish emigrants and their descendants around the world. In her 1995 address ‘Cherishing the Irish Diaspora’ to the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas (Ireland’s National Parliament), Mrs. Robinson reached out to the “70 million people worldwide who can claim Irish descent”.

The Presidential Referendum

And just last weekend, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Enda Kenny, announced plans of a referendum to be held on whether to allow all of those Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections. The move, if passed in a referendum, will see the numbers entitled to vote increase by hundreds of thousands and possibly millions. Among those who will be able to participate in choosing the president are Irish passport holders in Northern Ireland.

It was hugely symbolic that the Taoiseach made the announcement during a visit to Philadelphia in the United States, a city with a large Irish American population. The current President Michael D. Higgins’ seven year term ends next year, with an election likely in October or November 2018.

10 Facts about Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day


Ireland has a total area of 84,421 square kilometres.


The four Irish provinces are: Connacht; Leinster; Munster; Ulster.


Over half of Ireland’s population live within ten kilometres of the coast.


Lough Neagh is the largest lake in either Ireland or Britain.


Carrauntoohil, County Kerry is the highest mountain in Ireland at 3409 feet.


The River Shannon is the longest Irish river at 240 miles long.


The largest island off the Irish coast is Achill, County Mayo.


Cork is the largest (in terms of area at 7459 square kilometres) of Ireland’s 32 counties…


…and Louth is the smallest (821 square kilometres).


The tallest sculpture in the world is the Spire of Dublin in O’Connell Street at 120 metres high. This will be just one of many featured landmarks in the forthcoming The Little Book of Irish Landmarks.

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