Kiss Me, Though I Might Not Be Irish

Kiss Me, Though I Might Not Be Irish

March 17 marks the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick (387-461), which has evolved from a sombre religious holiday commemorating the patron saint of Ireland to a day synonymous with busy, and often drunken, festivities particularly in North America. Enjoy a few facts about these celebrations to get excited about the Irish food, drinks, and kisses you might share on this year’s St. Paddy’s Day!

St. Patrick Forever!, American School (20th century) / © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection
St. Patrick Forever!, American School (20th century) / © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection

St. Patrick was not Irish

Born in Great Britain, St. Patrick was not a native of Ireland but spent ages 16 to 22 on the island as an enslaved captive. Upon his return years later, he successfully converted the previously pagan Irish to Christianity.

Left: Stained glass window depicting St. Patrick (stained glass), Irish School / St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Ken Welsh Right: St Patrick, pub. Currier & Ives, c.1860 (hand coloured engraving), American School, (19th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection
Left: Stained glass window depicting St. Patrick (stained glass), Irish School / St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Ken Welsh
Right: St Patrick, pub. Currier & Ives, c.1860 (hand coloured engraving), American School, (19th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection

Legend also credits St. Patrick for a snake-free Ireland: snakes are a biblical symbol of evil, temptation, and paganism, but most likely had never been in Ireland to begin with.

Left: St Patrick's Day (engraving), English School, (19th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Illustrated Papers Collection Right: Eve Tempted, c.1877 (tempera on panel), John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908) / Manchester Art Gallery, UK
Left: St Patrick’s Day (engraving), English School, (19th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn / Illustrated Papers Collection
Right: Eve Tempted, c.1877 (tempera on panel), John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829-1908) / Manchester Art Gallery, UK

All Green Everything

Wear green or get pinched! St. Patrick famously used the three-leaved shamrock as an analogy for the Holy Trinity in his missionary efforts. Despite the use of blue by the Order of St. Patrick, the patron saint is often depicted in green garments while shamrocks and the colour green are recognized symbols of Ireland.

Tobacco premium depicting the national flag of Ireland, American, c.1900-14 (roller-printed cotton) / © The Design Library, New York, USA
Tobacco premium depicting the national flag of Ireland, American, c.1900-14 (roller-printed cotton) / © The Design Library, New York, USA

Kissing the Irish

A “Kiss me, I’m Irish” shirt for a conversation starter at a big party or crowded pub? While some grown-up kisses might be exchanged for the promise of luck, clothing with the playful phrase is mostly worn by children in Ireland. The practice comes from the kissing of the Blarney Stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence and wit. If you can’t get to the Stone itself, the Irish right by you is the next best thing!

Left: The Kiss, 1887 by Theodore Jacques Ralli / Private Collection / Berko Fine Paintings, Knokke-Zoute, Belgium Right: The Kiss, 1907-08 by Gustav Klimt / Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria
Left: The Kiss, 1887 by Theodore Jacques Ralli / Private Collection / Berko Fine Paintings, Knokke-Zoute, Belgium
Right: The Kiss, 1907-08 by Gustav Klimt / Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria

A Day for Drinking?

It’s been more than three weeks since Ash Wednesday; following through with your Lenten resolutions could be getting difficult. For the Irish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Lenten restrictions on food and alcohol consumption are lifted on March 17. Day-long drinking of green beers and other alcoholic beverages has since become a major event, especially for many Americans celebrating the day.

Left: Advertisement for Guinness, c.1950 by John Gilroy / Private Collection / DaTo Images Right: Poster advertising McConnell's Whisky, 1898, English School / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives
Left: Advertisement for Guinness, c.1950 by John Gilroy / Private Collection / DaTo Images
Right: Poster advertising McConnell’s Whisky, 1898, English School / Private Collection / © The Advertising Archives

Not So Much In Ireland

Not only is the public holiday observed with family and religious activities in Ireland, the Irish had known it as a dry holiday for the most part in the 20th century. Bars and pubs were banned on March 17 from 1903 to the 1970s as a reaction to overconsumption and abuse that were getting out of hand. Only in recent years did the Irish government recognize St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to promote tourism and cultural celebration and start to organize large-scale festivals, parades and so on.

St. Patrick's Day, 1867 by Thomas Nast / © Collection of the New-York Historical Society, USA
St. Patrick’s Day, 1867 by Thomas Nast / © Collection of the New-York Historical Society, USA

An American Party

St. Paddy’s events take place all around the world, but are indeed a spectacle in the US. Since the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade worldwide was held in New York City in 1762, the holiday has been an expression of Irish and Irish American pride in a nation of immigrants, mostly by Protestants, rather than a Catholic feast day.

St. Patrick's Day Parade in America, Union Square, 1870s, American School (19th century) / © Museum of the City of New York, USA
St. Patrick’s Day Parade in America, Union Square, 1870s, American School (19th century) / © Museum of the City of New York, USA

While recent ties with anti-LGBT sentiment taint official city parades in Boston and New York, Americans of all heritages continue to participate in other joyful festivities. New American traditions also continue to emerge, such as dyeing the White House fountain and the Chicago River green, and March is declared Irish-American Heritage Month.

Irish Girl, All In Green, English School (20th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn
Irish Girl, All In Green, English School (20th century) / Private Collection / © Look and Learn

Find out more

See all images of St. Patrick’s Day in the archive.

Contact the Bridgeman sales team at uksales@bridgemanimages.com or nysales@bridgemanimages.com for more information regarding licensing, reproduction and copyright.

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