Erin Go Bragh: How St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations Were Shaped by Marketing


In Boston, simply across the river from HubSpotas headquarters, St. Patrickas Day is various kinds of a big deal. Thereas a parade. Thereas a special breakfast for the whoas-who of local government. There are green bagels. And thereas a lot of beer.

We like to think of that as a very traditionally Bostonian way of celebrating St. Patrickas Day. And weare not alone — in Chicago, for example, they dye the river green. But weave get news. That word, atraditiona? We dislike to break it to you, but todayas celebrations of St. Patrickas Day are, well, far from traditional.

And like so many other holidays, the modern perspective and observance of St. Patrickas Day was shaped in some portion by — you guessed it — marketing. But what did it used to look like, and how did it get to where it is today?

Grab your four-leaf clover, because youare in luck.( Sorry, we couldnat help ourselves .) Weare taking you on a trip back in time to figure out just where St. Patrickas Day began.

How St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations Were Shaped by Marketing

Who Was Saint Patrick, and Why Do We Celebrate Him?


The Man

To actually trace the roots of St. Patrickas Day, itas important to understand its name. Yes, itas named for a person — Saint Patrick himself — who actually wasnat even of Irish descent. According to , he was actually born in 390 A.D ., in Britain to a Christian deacon parent. Itas rumored that he assumed that role for its tax incentives, and not for religion reasons. In fact, some speculate that Saint Patrick wasnat raised with much religion at all.

Interestingly enough, it was being kidnapped in his teen years and held captive by Irish looters that began Saint Patrickas journey to, well, sainthood. Much of that captivity was spent in isolation from other people, which allegedly caused Patrick to turn to spiritual supposes for guidance and consolation. After six years as a captive, he escaped back to Britain, and eventually examined to become a priest.

After he was ordained, he was sent on a mission back to Ireland to begin spreading and converting the population to Christianity. And according to National Geographic , it didnat go so well — ahe was constantly beaten by thugs, harassed by the Irish royalty, and reproved by his British superiors, a and he was alargely forgottena after his death in 461 A.D ., which is estimated to have taken place on March 17, the working day find as St. Patrickas Day.

The Myth

But subsequently, people started to create folklore around Saint Patrick. Itas not clear when these legends came to fruition, but you might be familiar with some of them — narratives of him banishing all snakes from Ireland, for example, which are the tales that eventually led to him being ahonored as the patron saint of Irelanda — hence the name, Saint Patrick.

Still, the celebrations of him within that particular nation remained fairly low-key until the 20 th century, prior to which March 17 th was mostly observed with a mention of it by clergymen, and a feast are received by households. Plus, there remains conflicting info about his life and the exact dates of its major events.

In fact, the celebrations actually began right here — in Boston.

What the Earliest Festivity Looked Like

Coming to America

According to Time , the inaugural celebration of St. Patrickas Day took place in 1737, in the form of aa group of upper-class Irish mena in Boston gathering for a dinner dedicated to athe Irish saint, a who one might assume was Patrick himself. Less than 30 year later, parades began in New York, with Irish-American members of the U.S. military marching to honor Saint Patrick awith Fifes and Drums.a

Source: Ephemeral New York

Both of these events have led many to speculate that how we view St. Patrickas Day today was largely an American invention, as many of the traditions we still continue to honor — including the New York City parade, which has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 251 years — were started by Irish-American immigrants. And as Irish immigration increased exponentially during the course of its 1800 s, the celebrations grew in kind, in large portion to combat stereotypes that this incoming population was adrunken, violent, criminalized, and diseased.a

Irish-Americans wanted a way to illustrate that they were wholesome people — that they paid tribute to their natively religion roots with an observation of the patron saint, but that they also espoused life in America, by creating these traditions on new land. And that population was the most concentrated in Boston, Chicago, and New York — which might be why we today consider the grandest celebrations in those cities. That began when Irish-Americans continued to face opposition by others, despite the aforementioned best efforts. The parades get bigger and occupied less localised venues, sending the message, “weare ‘not going anywhere.'”

Meanwhile, in Ireland a |

Eventually, around the 1920 s, Ireland began to observe St. Patrickas Day celebrations beyond church mentions and family meals. Not altogether unlike New York, it started with military parades in Dublin, but they werenat precisely festive — athe day was instead somber, a writes Mike Cronin, with amass in the morning[ and] the military parade at noon.a And, until the 1960 s, there was no drinking — before then, bars in Ireland were closed on St. Patrickas Day.

But in that country, at the least, the holiday considered a real turning point in 1996, with the very first instance of the St. Patrickas Festival in Dublin: A four-to-five-day celebration( which began as simply the working day) of music, parades, and other revelry. This yearas edition of the celebration simply kicked off yesterday and, today, brands across numerous nations — Ireland and the U.S. alike — are capitalizing on the celebration.

Source: St. Patrickas Festival

Weall get to that in a bit. First, letas look at how some other St. Patrickas Day traditions get started.

Why Green?

It all began with a ballad, aThe Wearing of the Green.a It dates back to 1798, when it was said to be written as a tribute to Irish Rebellion fighters, and has been repurposed many times since. The phrase in this post’s title, too, has ties to Irish fighters — “Erin Go Bragh, ” which is traditionally spelled “Airinn go BrA! ch, ” means “Ireland eternally, ” or Ireland “till doomsday.”

The most notable version of “The Wearing of the Green” is thought to be the one written and performed by Dion Boucicault in 1864 for the play Arragh na Pogue , or The Wicklow Wedding . And while thereas some disagreement surrounding this theory, many believe thatas where the tradition of wearing( and consuming) all things green on St. Patrickas Day is rooted — though itas an act of gross misunderstanding, since the lyrics were actually meant to encourage the wearing of a green shamrock, a symbol of the Holy Trinity. In reality, the original coloring association with St. Patrickas Day was blue.

Source: Free Printable Greeting Cards

But what of that shamrock, yet another item thatas come to be so strongly associated with contemporary interpretings of St. Patrickas Day? Well, that goes back, in part, to aThe Wearing of the Greena lyrics. Have a seem 😛 TAGEND

She’s the most distressful country that ever yet was seen

For they’re hanging men and women there for Wearing of the Green.a

Those lyrics actually allude to the fact that, during the Irish Rebellion, wearing a shamrock was an offense punishable by demise — and doing so came to be seen as a brave act of rebellion and loyalty to oneas Irish roots.

It could be why, today, wearing green on March 17 th — often adorned with shamrock shapes — is loosely regarded as an act of pride for all things Irish. In fact, you may have heard the phrase, aEveryone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, a which has been largely perpetuated by high-profile Irish brands, like Guinness.

Thatas one particularly outstanding example of how St. Patrickas Day is now highly commercial — itas not only American brands that are leveraging it for marketing intents. And believe it or not, there are many indicators that it began with this accidental tradition of athe wearing of the green.a

When It Started to Get Commercial

Itas the Shamrocks, Again

There were several pivotal moments in the history of St. Patrickas Day that could be pointed to as the beginning of its commercialization — events like the first St. Patrickas Festival in Dublin, or the first parade in the U.S. Indeed, it seems that the commercialization did begin stateside in 1952, when Irish ambassador John Joseph Hearne delivered a box of shamrocks intended for then-President Harry Truman. Itas since become an annual tradition.

But it wasnat just the start of tradition. What used to be a symbol of Irish pride and rebellion was now being gifted to U.S. officials from Irish ones. It signaled the same attempts that Irish immigrants were trying to make when their small, localised St. Patrickas Day celebrations first began: Honoring native traditions, while also espousing the U.S. by sharing them. It was an effort to establish and strengthen apro-Western credentials with Washingtona — a city where, at the time, there was little observance of St. Patrickas Day — said Michael Kennedy, executive editor of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy in an interview with CNN.

In a way, it could be said that Americans espoused this Irish tradition in return — but not without putting its own commercial spin on things. The same year as that unintentionally monumental shamrock delivery, Pan American Airline promoted its first direct flight from Shannon, Ireland to New York by flying 100,000 native shamrocks to be handed out to those marching in the New York parade.


In other words, at that point, the shamrock had built its way to the U.S ., and businesses and consumers alike couldnat get enough of it. “The marketing of ‘real’ shamrock was…part of the commercialization of St. Patrick’s Day, ” writes Cronin in his volume The Wearing of the Green . “More frequently, the image or symbol of the shamrock was hired artistically — adorning keepsakes, advertisings, adornments, greeting cards and clothing.”

Most of all, the celebration of St. Patrickas Day in the U.S. now extended far beyond the Irish-American population. With the shamrockas permeation into popular culture , non-Irish someones also began to take part in the holidayas observance, accommodating it as their own until it got to where it is today — green rivers, green brew, and a lot of shiny green accessories. As we said, and as is often claimed: aEveryone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.a

Today’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

So, what are your plans for St. Patrickas Day? Does it involve any of the aforementioned revelry and/ or accompanying green adornments? Will you be feasting on corned beef and cabbage — a dish largely unconsumed in Ireland? Now you know how we got here.

Itas been quite a few years since Iave donned my own glittery, shamrock-shaped earrings, or worn beads a tint of metallic green while partaking in a March 17 th tavern crawl. But now Iam aware that none of this has to do with the person for whom the holiday is named: Saint Patrick. And as a marketer, I canat be too angry about it — after all, many holidays in the U.S. have evolved in a similarly commercial style. Just last month, we discussed how that took place with Valentineas Day, which was also originally established in observance of a saint.

But we will ask that, as you go forth and eat a green milkshake today, to at least be aware of the history that made it possible. Erin Go Bragh — and as the saying runs, may you have a world of hopes at your command.

How does your brand observe St. Patrickas Day? Let us know in specific comments .

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