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Why is March 17 St. Patrick's Day?

St. Patrick's Day, March 17, is regarded as an important holiday in all parts of the world where there are Irish or people of Irish descent. Many people erroneously suppose it to be the anniversary of the birth of the Apostle to Ireland. March 17, however, is the traditional day on which St. Patrick died. It is his feast day, not his birthday. The early Christians as a rule did not believe in celebrating birthdays. To them entrance into a world of sorrow, oppression and persecution was no cause for rejoicing. The day of death, which represented release from worldly care and the beginning of eternal peace and glory, was therefore generally chosen as the feast day of a saint. When March 17 was chosen as St. Patrick's day is not known. According to an old story, based on the mistaken notion that March 17 represents St. [page 89] Patrick's birthday, the patron saint of Ireland wsa born about midnight, and his family and friends were uncertain whether he was born on the eighth or the ninth of March. Samuel Lover (1797-1868), Irish novelist, song writer and painter, in 1836 put this legend in verse and told how a priest finally settled the dispute. The poem, The Birth of St. Patrick's follows:

On the eighth day of March it was, some people say
St. Patrick at midnight he first saw the day;
awhile others declare 'twas the ninth he was born—
And 'twas all a mistake between midnight and morn;
For mistakes will occur in a hurry and shock,
And some blamed the baby—and some blamed the clock— Till with all their cross-questions sure no one could know
If the child was too fast or the clock was too slow.

Now the first faction-fight in old Ireland, they say,
Was all on account of Saint Patrick's birthday:
Some fought for the eighth—for the ninth more would die,
And who wouldn't see right, sure they blacken'd his eye!
At last, both the factions so positive grew,
That each kept a birthday, so Pat then had two.
Till Father Mulcahy, who show'd them their sins,
Said, "No one could have two birthdays, but a twins."

Says he, "Boys, don't be fightin' for eight or for nine,
Don't always be dividin'—but sometimes combine;
Combine eight with nine, and seventeen is the mark,
Let that be his birthday."—"Amen," says the clerk,
"If he wasn't a twin, sure our hist'ry will show
That, at least, he's worthy any two saints that we know!"
Then they all got blind drunk—which completed their bliss,
And we keep up the practice from that day to this.
There has been much controversy as to when and where St. Patrick was born. The place of his birth is variously supposed to be Scotland, England, Wales and France. His birth is believed to have occurred about 389 A.D. He seems to have referred to himself as a Roman, and legend says he was born of a Christian family of Roman citizenship, his father, reputedly a man of considerable means, being a Roman official in Britain. When he was sixteen he was captured by pirates and kept in slavery for six years among the people whom he later con­verted to Christianity. He was arrested and sentenced to death by the pagan Irish twelve diferent times. It is believed that he died in [page 90] Ireland in 461. His grave is not in Southern Ireland but in Ulster. His legendary grave in Downpatrick Cathedral is covered with a great granite slab for which Irishmen of all religious denominations con­tributed.