The Irish have observed St Patrick's Day as a religious festival for thousands of years. Thought to have been born in the tiny Welsh village of Banwen, in his early life St Patrick was captured by raiders and sold to Ireland as a slave. He escaped aged 22, under the direction of an angel, and spent twelve years in a monastery where he adopted the name of Patrick. One night he heard voices urging him to return to Ireland and thus became one of the first Christian missionaries in the Emerald Isle.
St Patrick himself used the shamrock in the 5th century to teach people about Christianity as he travelled around Ireland. Legend has it he preached that each of the three leaves illustrated the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit of the Holy Trinity. In the 19th century the small shamrock became a symbol of rebellion against the English and was strongly linked with Irish identity. Anyone seen wearing the shamrock risked death by hanging. These days the shamrock appears at St Patrick's Day largely as decoration and enjoys much merrier associations.
Patrick died in AD 493 according to the latest reconstruction of old Irish annals. It is believed that 17th March was his death date and thus became the date popularly associated with him - now commonly known as St Patrick's Day.
The tradition of parties and parades on the day was first introduced in America (indeed the pubs were closed in Ireland on St Patrick's Day until the 1970s), but the tradition has spread to all parts of the world with substantial Irish populations, and the celebrations in London and Dublin now rival those in New York, Chicago and Boston.
St Patrick's Day in London 2010
The official London celebrations - that's the ones that don't revolve around pubs, Guinness and more pubs - take place on Sunday 1...The Parade 2010
London's events calendar is always crammed with a raft of diverse entertainment but this St Patrick's Day London is joining in the...Events 2010
The Irish pub is a phenomenon around the world. The wholesome blend of traditional, rustic decor, folk music, good-humour and Guin...Irish Pubs
London's shopping industry offers a colourful mix of global influences on our high streets. With Ireland's rich heritage in fashio...Irish Shopping
Going to mass on St Patrick's Day is a tradition that has spanned decades. Many of the Catholic churches in London ...Catholic Churches