Irish Traditions: Celebrating St Patrick's Day in Ireland

Updated on December 27, 2011
A traditional St Patrick's Day religious procession in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.
A traditional St Patrick's Day religious procession in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

The Irish Tradition of St Patrick's Day

St Patrick is the most famous of Ireland's three patron saints, and a symbol of all things Irish around the world. St Patrick's Day (17th March) has been celebrated in Ireland since Medieval times when Saint Patrick brought Christianity to the island. Some old Irish traditions for St Patrick's Day can still be experienced today,away from the parades, Guinness, Leprechauns and general frivolity. In Irish culture St Patrick's Day is traditionally a religious festival, a time of giving thanks for the arrival of Christian teachings and values. Here are some of the traditional Irish customs for celebrating St Patrick's Day...

Saint Patrick's Day Explained

Click on a title to read more about traditions and celebrations of St Patrick's Day in Ireland and around the world....

Irish Traditions on St Patrick's Day

  • Shamrocks are traditionally worn in bunches pinned to your lapel on St Patrick's Day. The small Irish plant is associated with the saint due to a legend that he used the three-parted leaf of the shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish in the fifth century AD.
  • The 'wearing of the green': green is considered to be the color which best represents Ireland, which is also known as the Emerald Isle. Although not everyone bothers, it is still an Irish custom to wear something green on St Patrick's Day in honor of Ireland's most famous patron saint.
  • Going to church is still the most traditional activity in Ireland on St Patrick's Day. Although it has grown into something of a worldwide party, St Patrick's Day is first and foremost a religious festival recognized by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in Ireland. Both denominations conduct church services to commemorate the saint credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland.
  • Breaking Lent is also traditionally permitted on St Patrick's Day. Because the patron saint's holiday always falls within the season of lenten fasting it is allowed on that day to break your 'fast' and celebrate with whatever food and drink you fancy. So, while some people in Ireland give up alcohol during lent, the pubs are always full on 17th March.
  • Drowning the shamrock: for luck on St Patrick's Day it was traditional to drop a shamrock into customers drinks in the pub. Hence the custom of 'drowning the shamrock' on St Patrick's Day. In theory, downing more drinks means more good luck for the year ahead!
  • Pilgrimages and Processions: certain places associated with St Patrick host religious rituals such as climbing mountains barefoot or processions to sites where relics of the saint are believed to be kept. For more on these unique events read on below....

Croagh Patrick draws many pilgrims on St Patricks Day. Traditionalists will climb the mountain barefoot, no matter what the weather.
Croagh Patrick draws many pilgrims on St Patricks Day. Traditionalists will climb the mountain barefoot, no matter what the weather.

Traditional Celebrations in Ireland on St Patrick's Day

While Ireland hosts many St Patrick's Day parades in her towns and cities, away from the crowds there are older and more traditional celebrations of Saint Patrick. Certain places in Ireland are particularly associated with Ireland's patron saint and they have unique customs and rituals which take place on 17th March each year. Here are some of the best examples:

Downpatrick, County Down is said to be the final resting place of St Patrick and the site thought to be his grave is a focus for pilgrimage every 17th March. The grave is marked with a large stone and stands in the grounds of the cathedral. There are various other sites around the area associated with Saint Patrick - the mountain of Slieve Patrick, Saul said to be the first church in Ireland and the Struell holy wells which are believed to have been given curative properties by the saint.

Armagh, County Armagh has been the religious capital of Ireland for over 1500 years and is home to both Catholic and Church of Ireland cathedrals dedicated to Saint Patrick. Both hold church services on 17th March in honor of the saint who was closely associated with founding the first Christian churches in Armagh.

Croagh Patrick, County Mayo is a mountain where the saint reputedly spent forty days and forty nights fasting before banishing the snakes from Ireland. The mountain is a year round destination for pilgrims - some of whom climb the peak in their bare feet. It is a particular St Patrick's Day tradition to climb the mountain, with thousands of pilgrims flocking to Croagh Patrick on 17th March. Other mountains associated with Saint Patrick (and sites for pilgrimage) are Slemish in County Antrim and Slieve Patrick in County Down.

Questions & Answers


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      • Marie McKeown profile image

        Marie McKeown 6 years ago from Ireland

        Thanks David! I hope you enjoy St Patrick's Day when it comes round...

      • David Legg 7 profile image

        David Legg 7 6 years ago from Trout Paradise, Colorado

        Excellent hub with some great, well researched information! Thank you!