Anyone for a Guinness?

17 March 2015

Cultural Studies | Empire and Globalism | History

A global phenomenon, few patron saints are as enthusiastically celebrated as St. Patrick. Credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland’s pagans in the fourth century, he has since become a symbol of Irish patriotism. And it doesn't seem to matter much where you are in the world on 17 March – chances are you’ll be encouraged to wear green, don your fanciest shamrock brooch and gulp down gallons of Guinness.

Few places celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like the USA. Not only do they put on huge parades in the major cities like New York and San Francisco, but just about every state boasts parties, processions and festive decor – even the White House dyes its fountain green for the big day. So how did St. Patrick’s Day become such a sensation in the United States?

Perhaps the answer can be found within the rich primary sources featured in our forthcoming Migrations to New Worlds resource, which provides an in-depth look at the migration of the Irish (among many others) to places like the USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Irish migrated to America in their millions, leaving the domestic hardships and religious tensions of their homeland to set up new lives in the British colonies. Now, more than 34 million Americans lay claim to an Irish heritage.

Image Â© Merseyside Maritime Museum. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

The Irish also took their reverence for St. Patrick to America. For example, Francis Kennedy, the gentlemen featured in our photograph above from Merseyside Maritime Museum, traveled all the way from Ireland to Liverpool, then across the Atlantic to New York and finally settled in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he and his wife Margaret were buried together in none other than St. Patrick’s Church.

Irish immigrants also continued to celebrate St. Patrick on 17 March as tradition dictated, and with growing popularity. One of the primary sources featured in Migrations to New Worlds shows just how important this day became to Irish immigrants living in America. Taken from the archive of the American Antiquarian Society, St. Patrick’s Day: Its Celebration in New York and Other American Places, 1737-1845 details the most prominent celebrations within the Irish communities and, most poignantly, shows how the Irish wanted to celebrate both “the land we left and the land we live in”.



Extract from St. Patrick’s Day: Its Celebration in New York and Other American Places, 1737-1845. Image © American Antiquarian Society. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

National pride in both Ireland and America can be seen throughout the book’s entries in the toasts given and songs sang at St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Often starting with a cry of “Erin go Bragh!”, toasts and tunes like those featured above go from blessing the Emerald Isle (and praying for its release from the English) to giving thanks for to the “United States of America – The only land of Freemen” and praising popular politicians of the day. We can even start to see the beginning of St. Patrick’s Day drinking traditions in some!

Extract from St. Patrick’s Day: Its Celebration in New York and Other American Places, 1737-1845. Image © American Antiquarian Society. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


St. Patrick’s Day: Its Celebration in New York and Other American Places, 1737-1845 stands as a great example of how Irish immigrants were able to carve out new lives for themselves, often against the backdrop of immense hardships, and fuse these new lives with ancient traditions to create a new cultural identity, giving us the very beginning of the all-singing, all-dancing, all-Guinness consuming and green-tinted extravaganza celebrated worldwide today.

Migration to New Worlds features primary sources taken from leading archives such as Museum Victoria, The National Archives, Merseyside Maritime Museum and the California Historical Society. Available from November, it tracks the migration of people from Great Britain, mainland Europe and Asia to the New World and Australasia. To find out more, click here.

About the Author

Rachael Gardner - Stephens

Rachael Gardner - Stephens

I have worked in the editorial teams at Adam Matthew since 2015. I've worked on a number of fascinating resources, from Migration to New Worlds and Colonial America, to Leisure, Travel & Mass Culture. I've recently been developing resources such Food & Drink in History, Children's Literature and 19th Century Literary Society.