Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

St Patrick's Day

08 Mar 2023 - by Liz Jakimow

Think St Patrick’s Day is all about having a Guinness at a green-decorated pub? Think again.

For many people, St Patrick’s Day is less about having a beer than it is about connecting with their Irish heritage.

St Patrick’s Day is a religious feast day, held each year on 17 March, thought to be the date when St Patrick died. As St Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, it is strongly associated with all things Irish. So it has become not just a religious feast day, but a day to celebrate Ireland, its culture and its traditions.

Yet you don’t need to be Irish to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. While strongly associated with Ireland, it is celebrated in many parts of the world by all different nationalities. Australia’s particularly love celebrating St Patrick’s Day, perhaps so many Australians have some Irish ancestry or perhaps there was a time, in the early days of European settlement, when the Irish felt a strong desire to affirm their national identity. At one time, 25% of the population in Australia were Irish.

In the past, many Irish-Australian Catholics would start the day by going to Mass. ‘My father never missed Mass on St Patrick’s Day,” says Janice Flaherty, from the Friends of Ireland Association.

After Mass, there would be celebrations and festivities, including a parade, sports and treats. Janice says ‘It was the one time during Lent where we were allowed to eat lollies.’ However, it was not just festivities and lollies. Janice speaks movingly about how St Patrick’s Day was a time to connect to her traditions and identify with her origins. Indeed, it still is.

While the emotional ties to Ireland still remain, some things about celebrating St Patrick’s Day have changed. Previously, it was a sectarian affair. Not only is the day celebrated as a feast day by Catholics, but also by Anglicans, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutherans. Yet these different denominations would generally never celebrate the day together. Nowadays, different nationalities and different faiths often celebrate the day together, with some places holding ecumenical and even interfaith services.

The Friends of Ireland will be holding an ecumenical/interfaith service for the Feast of St Patrick at 12 noon on Saturday 18 March at the Chapel, Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. This service starts by the Piper leading everyone into the chapel, followed by Welcome to Country. A selection of hymns have been chosen, which will be accompanied by very talented Irish musicians, including a harpist. The guest-speaker will be Emeritus Professor John Warhust AO, School of Politics and International Relations and Research School of Social Sciences at ANU and regular columnist for the Canberra Times and Eureka Street magazine. There will also be readings  and prayers of intercession from different faith groups, including a prayer of intercession on behalf of First Nations people and a reading from the Qu’ran. Following the service, there will be afternoon tea and Irish music.

So if you want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in a way that draws on its rich history, celebrates Irish heritage, but also comes together with other nationalities and religions, come down to the Chapel on 18 March (the day after St Patrick’s Day).

Go to our events page for more details.

Some information about St Patrick

The story of St Patrick has captivated the world. As a boy, he was captured from either Wales or Scotland and sent to Slemish Mountain in County Antrim as a slave. He tended sheep on this quiet mountainside before escaping home, where he had a vision telling him to return to Ireland and spread the message of Christianity.

Patrick left his mark on the island of Ireland, from the iconic Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary to the breathtaking peak of County Mayo's Croagh Patrick, a site of pilgrimage for many. But it's in the counties of Armagh and Down in Northern Ireland where his legacy is strongest: at tiny Saul Church, built on the site of Patrick's first church in Ireland, in the city of Armagh where two cathedrals are dedicated to him, and in Down Cathedral, where he was finally laid to rest.

Did you know: Five St Patrick facts

1 Why 17 March?

The date marks the saint's death. Patrick died in 461 in Saul, County Down. He is buried in the grounds of Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down.

2 When was the first parade?

The first St Patrick’s Day parade actually took place in Boston in the United States in 1737. Ireland's first parade was held in Waterford in 1903.

3 Was St Patrick Irish?

No, he wasn't born in Ireland. St Patrick was thought to have originally come from either Wales or Scotland.

4  Why do people wear green?

The colour green is now synonymous with St Patrick’s Day and Irish pride but until the 19th century, the colour associated with St Patrick was actually blue.

5 Why is St Patrick associated with shamrocks?

According to legend, St Patrick used the shamrock as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity when he first introduced Christianity to Ireland.