A Non-Clichéd Guide to St. Patrick’s Day

SHARP & Glendalough

In North America, Ireland’s national holiday is practically synonymous with parades and pubs. Until the late twentieth century, however, all non-essential spaces (including pubs!) shut their doors for March 17th. A report in Time Magazine credits the rowdy festivities of today — soaked in bright green beer and sticky with shamrock shakes — to a 1980s marketing campaign by an American beer company. St. Patrick’s Day, however, long predates marshmallow cereal charms and cartoon leprechauns. Saint Patrick’s story begins, well… the exact dates are disputed, but historians generally agree that he was active during the fifth century. With that in mind, let’s turn back the clock, shall we?

St. Patrick’s Day: A Blarney-Free History

Croagh Patrick, where Saint Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days.
Croagh Patrick, where Saint Patrick is said to have fasted for 40 days.

Two autobiographical texts, Confessio and Epistola, tell us virtually everything we know about Saint Patrick — which isn’t much, to be fair. We do know that Saint Patrick was a missionary, often credited with introducing Ireland to Catholicism. While historians aren’t sure of his exact birth year, they seem to agree that he lived during the fifth century, likely passing towards the end of the century on March 17th; this prompted an annual Irish feast in his honour. Though Saint Patrick was the Patron Saint of Ireland by the sixth century, the Irish government wouldn’t declare St. Patrick’s Day an official holiday until 1903.

statue of Saint Patrick in Ireland.
Saint Patrick in Ireland.

Beyond the basics, however, information becomes much less reliable. Centuries of storytelling obscure fact from fiction, wrapping Saint Patrick in a cloak of myth and mystery. We’ll let the scholars debate amongst themselves, though: contemporary celebrations owe more to symbolism than certainty.

Pour One Out For Patrick

Though beer is likely the most ordered drink on March 17th, it’s whisky that has a historical tie to the Irish national holiday. Legend has it that a fatigued Saint Patrick stopped by an inn for a pick-me-up only to be miffed when the innkeeper filled just half the glass. Accordingly, Saint Patrick told the barkeep about a demon living in the inn’s basement, feeding off of dishonesty. By Saint Patrick’s next visit, the inn was pouring glasses to the brim. Satisfied, he proclaimed the demon banished and declared that everyone should indulge in a full glass whiskey on his feast day.

Pour One Out For Patrick

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Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey ($50)

Pour One Out For Patrick

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Glendalough Single Malt Mizunara ($135)

It’s a bit much to hand out full glasses of whiskey at a holiday party, of course — we’d suggest serving a mixed drink to celebrate. Ireland has no shortage of internationally-recognized distilleries, but with Glendalough whiskey, there’s plenty of options to pair with any dish. The Orchard Crisp blends Glendalough Double Barrel Irish whiskey with citrus and ginger, garnished with refreshing mint. Should you crave a tropical sip, try making a whiskey smash with Glendalough Double Barrel, diced cucumbers, lemonade, and a few sprigs of fresh mint. If you’re more inclined to enjoy whiskey on its own, the Glendalough Single Malt Mizunara is a botanical delight.

Beyond ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ Tees: Gaelic Greens

Emerald-coloured and electric, modern parades are greener than your neighbour’s grass. When Irish immigrants organized the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City, however, blue was the colour of choice — allegedly, Saint Patrick loved a set of royal blue robes. Emerald green became a symbol of Irish pride during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, though, and it’s been ubiquitous ever since.

Beyond ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ Tees: Gaelic Greens

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Beyond ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ Tees: Gaelic Greens

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Beyond ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ Tees: Gaelic Greens

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Beyond ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ Tees: Gaelic Greens

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That said, there’s no need to show up looking like Kermit the Frog; apparel and accessories come in all shades, so be as subtle or expressive as you’d like. A little green accent on sneakers, a botanical silk pocket square, a more muted green and well-tailored suit jacket, or even a green-dialed wristwatch can get the message across without feeling tacky. Naturally, subtle shamrock-themed accessories are another suitable option. So the story goes, Saint Patrick used the three-leaf clover to teach unity during his missions; even before Saint Patrick, druids were known to carry them for protective purposes. The rare four-leaf clover came to symbolize luck, faith, hope, and love. When done well, it can be a charming addition to an outfit.

Say Cheers by the Fire

Now for another legend to guide your holiday celebrations: an end-of-season fire. Vita sancti Patricii, one of the first written works of Saint Patrick’s life, tells a story in which Saint Patrick lit a fire to spite Ireland’s High King Laoire. When the king demanded it be put out, his messengers found that nobody — other than Saint Patrick himself — could extinguish the blaze (seriously, this guy was an enigma). This is largely recognized as a dramatization, of course, but it makes for a decent story. There’s plenty of ways to incorporate the fireplace into your festivities, whether it’s a moody cocktail hour by the flames or an outdoor gathering to christen the fire pit for spring.

Pour the whiskey, simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice into an ice filled highball glass.
Top with ginger beer.
Add three dashes of bitters and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Party Playlist: Irish Rock & Flute-Tinged Festivities

There’s a particularly fascinating relationship between music and St. Patrick’s Day, too. An American version of Saint Patrick’s legend says he used music to banish snakes from Ireland. With a hypnotic flute melody, he lured a school of serpents out from the forest. When he reached the shore, Saint Patrick hopped on a boat and continued to play; the Irish snakes followed him into the ocean and thus, the reptilian reign of terror was over.

To be clear, historians confirm Ireland never had any snakes to begin with. Yet the story illustrates another truth: music is deeply embedded into Irish culture. For a country of roughly seven million, Ireland punches well above its weight in music: the Cranberries, Van Morrison, Enya, Sinead O’Connor, Hozier, and Dermot Kennedy all hail from the Emerald Isle. If you want something a bit different, there’s a good dose of Celtic folk inspired punk outfits out there as well, with the likes of The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, and Canada’s own The Mahones to give the day a little energy.

With so many ways to celebrate, St. Patrick’s Day makes a charming interlude between winter and spring. Plus, it’s a good reminder to enjoy the simple pleasures — whether that’s a bold sip of whiskey, a quality dinner with family, or simply an excuse to try on a new colour. No matter how you spend the 17th, we’re wishing you a year of good luck.