Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Saint Patrick in America

St. Patrick’s Day is most often celebrated with a plethora of shamrocks, green trappings, and corn beef and cabbage. But do your students know the history of the day and its importance for American history?

St. Patrick is known as the patron saint of Ireland, though he was actually born in Roman-governed England, probably in the late 4th century. Around the age of 16, he was kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in Ireland. He finally escaped after six years of servitude and returned to Britain. Back home, Patrick became a priest and then returned to Ireland where he converted tens of thousands of the Irish people to Christianity. Patrick died on March 17th, most likely in the year 461.

St. Patrick’s Day has been observed as a religious holiday by the Irish for hundreds of years, but the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland, but in the United States – New York City to be exact. Irish soldiers in the English military marched through the city on March 17, 1762. The day became even more important in America as millions of Irish immigrants entered the United States in the nineteenth century. Today, a St. Patrick’s Day parade takes place in cities all over America, notably Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah. Chicago even has a tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green for the day (see the picture above).

Some have made great and controversial claims for the importance of the role played by the Irish in world history. Their great influence on American history, however, is undisputed. Have your students research the influence of Irish immigration on American history. Where did most Irish immigrants settle? How did this immigration shape religious, political, and cultural developments in the United States? Who are some of the most famous Irish-Americans?