Fun and Interesting Facts About St. Patrick's Day

March Is Irish-American Heritage Month

kids in green shirts blowing gold glitter
Getty Images 

How many St. Patrick's Day facts do you know? Probably that it falls on March 17 and honors the Catholic saint who legendarily chased snakes from Ireland. Here are some more fun facts about St. Patrick's Day that you can use to wow your friends and family.

How St. Patrick's Day Originated

St. Patrick's Day began as a religious holiday to honor St. Patrick, who brought Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. Shamrocks became a symbol of the day because, as legend has it, St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to people.

The first parade for the holiday interestingly occurred in what's now St. Augustine, Florida (then a Spanish colony), on March 17, 1601. Then, New York City held a parade in the 1700s in honor of the Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military. And ultimately the interest in parades expanded to other cities across the country and around the world.

Irish in the United States

In 1991, Congress proclaimed March to be Irish-American Heritage Month. It honors the achievements and contributions of Irish immigrants and their descendants who are living in the United States today.

As of 2019, 9.2% of the U.S. population (or roughly 30.4 million people) claims Irish ancestry, which is more than the population of Ireland itself (roughly 5 million people), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, is the U.S. county with the most people (438,350 as of 2019) who claim Irish ancestry, per the Census Bureau. And in 2019, there were 111,886 U.S. residents who reported their birthplace as Ireland, according to the bureau. 

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Corned beef and cabbage is one of the most popular meals to eat on St. Patrick’s Day. However, it’s not necessarily a traditional Irish recipe, as cows in Ireland were used more for their milk than their meat.

That changed in the late 1600s, according to Smithsonian Magazine, when cattle exports to England lowered the cost for salted beef production. “The British invented the term ‘corned beef’ in the 17th century to describe the size of the salt crystals used to cure the meat, the size of corn kernels,” according to the magazine. Ireland became a major corned beef producer for England and other countries because its salt tax was cheaper than England’s and it had large numbers of cattle. However, many of the Irish people still could not afford the meat for themselves.

In the 1800s, Irish immigrants in the U.S.—many of them in New York City—were able to acquire beef for themselves, primarily from Jewish butchers. “The corned beef they made was from brisket, a kosher cut of meat from the front of the cow,” according to Smithsonian Magazine. “Since brisket is a tougher cut, the salting and cooking processes transformed the meat into the extremely tender, flavorful corned beef we know of today.”

These Irish immigrants were the ones who helped to shape St. Patrick’s Day into a cultural celebration that goes beyond its religious origin. And of course that celebration had to come with a special meal. “The immigrants splurged on their neighbor’s flavorful corned beef, which was accompanied by their beloved potato and the most affordable vegetable, cabbage,” Smithsonian Magazine says. “It didn’t take long for corned beef and cabbage to become associated with St. Patrick’s Day.”

Irish-Themed Namesakes in the U.S.

There are several cities in the U.S. whose names have an Irish theme. For instance, there are places in Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and other states with the name of Shamrock. Plus, there are several cities named Dublin, including ones in California and Ohio. 

More whimsical Irish-themed towns include Emerald Isle, North Carolina, and the township of Irishtown, Illinois. Other locations feature the name Clover.