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The 17th of March marks the date of the death of St Patrick, the patron Saint of Ireland. St Patrick was actually born in Britain but, when he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. It was about the year 415 and there was no kids helpline or social media available to send out a cry for help. So he planned and plotted and eventually managed to escape. Sadly, Paddy was no Houdini and he was sent off to France where he was introduced to Christianity. 

He escaped again and managed to return to Ireland, which he now accepted as home. Converted to the Christian religion, he set about spreading the Word throughout Ireland.  Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.

He is credited with ridding Ireland of snakes and is generally regarded as being a pretty good chap. 

Of course, he would never have risen to the levels of global recognition that his name enjoys today, had it not been for one singular event: The Irish Potato Famine.

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In the early 1800s, many Irish people lived as impoverished tenant farmers, generally in debt to British landlords. The need to survive on small plots of rented land created the dreadful situation where vast numbers of people depended on the potato crop for survival.

Historians have long noted that while Irish peasants were forced to subsist on potatoes, other crops were being grown in Ireland, and food was exported for market in England and elsewhere. Beef cattle raised in Ireland were also exported for English tables. source

The failure of essentially the entire potato crop for several years led to unprecedented disaster. Both Ireland and America would be changed forever. Back in the late 1700's and early 1800's there had been occasional bad harvest years when the staple of the Irish diet, the humble potato, was hit by a blight.  By 1840, things were grim. The potato blight changed Irish society forever, most importantly by greatly reducing the population. 

The blight was spread by the wind, and,  in September and October of 1845, the diseased plants withered with shocking speed. When the potatoes were dug up for harvest, they were found to be rotting.  The farmers discovered the potatoes they could normally store and use as provisions for six months had turned inedible.
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In 1841, Ireland's population was in excess of eight million. At least one million people died of starvation and disease in the late 1840s, and at least another one million immigrated during the famine. The main country that they headed to? America. And, with the arrival of these impoverished, hungry and desperate migrants came a resentment: they hated the English who had brought this poverty and exile upon them.

By 1850, the population of New York City was said to be 26 percent Irish. An article titled "Ireland in America" in the "New York Times" on April 2, 1852, recounted the continuing arrivals:

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On Sunday last three thousand emigrants arrived at this port. On Monday there were over two thousand. On Tuesday over five thousand arrived. On Wednesday the number was over two thousand. Thus in four days twelve thousand persons were landed for the first time upon American shores. A population greater than that of some of the largest and most flourishing villages of this State was thus added to the City of New York within ninety-six hours.

 Of course, this did not go down too well with the largely Protestant population and the introduction of St Patrick's Day celebrations was seen as uncouth and drunken behavior by the pious residents. 

The American Irish soon began to realize, however, that their large and growing numbers gave them Political power and they started to organize, and their voting bloc, known as the “green machine,” became an important swing vote for political hopefuls. Suddenly, annual St. Patrick’s Day parades became a show of strength for Irish Americans, as well as a must-attend event for political candidates.source 

It would seem that the St Patricks Day traditions that arrived in America gave rise to a political divide that lasts even to this day. Joe Biden has become the second ever Catholic president of the United States. 

Out of the 46 presidents since the inauguration of George Washington in 1789, the only other Catholic commander-in-chief was John F Kennedy.

It seems to me that the celebration of St Patricks Day has more to do with a celebration of freedom and the giving of thanks to a Saint who was once a slave but was freed; a People who were once slaves to tyrannical British landlords but found freedom in America; and a global celebration of the right to eat, drink and be merry.

 

 

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