St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland vs. the United States

ConnemaraSt. Patrick’s Day has arrived, and once again many of my friends in the United States are getting ready for the day’s celebrations. One friend is currently in Savannah, home of the second largest St. Patrick’s Day event in the country. Friends are getting their green shirts ready for the day – for people growing up in certain parts of the United States, a failure to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day may result in you getting pinched!

While living in Dublin I was pretty surprised to find out that St. Patrick’s Day is nowhere near as big in Ireland as it tends to be in the United States, especially since the holiday originated in Ireland. This got me wondering why, so I did a little research.

In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of St. Patrick, and therefore a religious holiday. St. Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, who lived in Ireland in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. He wasn’t Irish; in fact, he was a Romano-Briton who was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. In Ireland, St. Patrick was traditionally celebrated for the missionary work he performed in Ireland and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country; the holiday is therefore a religious holiday, similar to Christmas and Easter – it’s not a celebration of Ireland like it is in the United States. These days you can find St. Patrick’s Day parades, shamrocks, and free-flowing Guinness in Ireland, but it’s mostly there because the tourists wanted it there. If not for them, it would likely have remained a day of solemnity; in fact, up until 1970 Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on St. Patrick’s Day.

Girl celebrating St. Patrick's DaySo why did St. Patrick’s Day come to be such a huge deal in the United States? To Americans, especially those 36.5 million with Irish heritage, it represents something quite different than it does to the Irish living in Ireland. When close to a million poor Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States during the Great Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, they were despised for their religious beliefs and had a hard time finding even menial jobs. The first St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the United States were met with contempt. When the Irish began to realize that their great numbers gave them political power, they started to organize themselves into a force. Annual St. Patrick’s Day parades, that started not in Ireland but in New York City in March of 1762, were a demonstration of strength and solidarity among a people who, at that time, were for the most part unwelcome in protestant America.

Stormtroopers celebrating St. Patrick's DaySo to Irish Americans and those claiming Irish American descent, a population that currently stands at about nine times the population of Ireland itself, St. Patrick’s Day means much more than the celebration of a religious figure – it’s a day that came to represent the strength and pride of the Irish people in a foreign land. And as such it has a very important meaning here – tens of millions of Americans are both proud to be American, and proud to be of Irish ancestry. On March 17th comes their chance to celebrate as such.

I’m of Irish descent myself – and I’ll be wearing my obnoxiously green Irish Rugby Team jersey.

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14 Responses to “St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland vs. the United States”

  1. heyy brian, i wanted to thank you for writing this article, it really helped with a report i had on comparing and contrasting st patricks day in ireland in the usa,
    thanks 🙂

  2. hey that’s great – I’m really glad to hear that! Learning about different cultures and their customs is always very interesting to me.

  3. Good job Brian!

  4. This helped a lot for my essay. though, I think it needed more about why america over celebrates the holiday.

  5. you put your instead of you in the first paragraph

  6. Hi Brian, thank you for an excellent article! The comparison is something I wanted to know and here it is – in your writing. I had no idea that the celebration of St Patrick´s Day in two continents had actually different meaning. Very understandable, now that you analyze it. Thank you!

  7. Hey Brian,

    As a 4th generation born Irish-American, I have been trying to better understand how to better celebrate my heritage and your article has been very helpful! I look forward to celebrating my heritage every year and am excited to better explain why we celebrate to my children.

  8. This really helped me on a report I had to do!Thanks!🤓🤓

  9. “it’s not a celebration of Ireland like it is in the United States. ”

    It’s not a celebration of Ireland in the US, it’s an excuse to get wasted and at best re-enforce some rather crude stereotypes.

  10. I was looking for a contrast and compare piece regarding St.Patrick’s Day in the US and Ireland to educate my Polish girlfriend. Your article did that very well. Thank you.

    I come from Celtic DNA, and grew up in L.A. but my family always went to church on this day and had dinner together. It wasnt until i was a bit older that I worried about wearing green and all the other stuff Americans do on this day.

    My family didn’t criticize any of those traditions and didnt protest them. If it wasn’t for my grandmother I would have probably not had the religious celebrational side of this day, St. Patrick Day. Thanks Grandma!


  1. Learn about St. Patrick - Books for Kids - Natural Parent Guide - August 6, 2017

    […] This post sums up pretty well, in short, why St. Patrick’s Day is so celebrated in America, more so than in Ireland. I will now wear green in pride of my immigrant Irish ancestors without so much question as to why in the world I’m encouraging this silly tradition! […]

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About the Author

Website: Brian Crawford
I'm a Canadian and British dual citizen with an internationally-focused American MBA and an MS in International Project Management from a French business school. I am PMP, ScrumMaster, and ITIL Foundation certified. I'm particularly into travel, writing, and learning about different languages and cultures.