St Patrick is one of the patron saints of Ireland. He is said to have died on March 17 in or around the year 493. He grew up in Roman Britain, but was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave when he was a young adult. After some years he returned to his family and entered the church, like his father and grandfather before him. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary and worked in the north and west of the country.
According to popular legend, St Patrick rid Ireland of snakes. However, it is thought that there have been no snakes in Ireland since the last ice age. The "snakes" that St Patrick banished from Ireland, may refer to the druids or pagan worshipers of snake or serpent gods. He is said to be buried under Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, Ireland. Ireland’s other patron saints are St Brigid and St Columba.
Luke Wadding, a Franciscan scholar born in 1588 in Waterford, on the south coast of Ireland, was influential in ensuring that the anniversary of St Patrick's death became a feast day in the Catholic Church. Many Catholic churches traditionally move St Patrick's Day to another date if March 17 falls during Holy Week.
Many immigrants from Ireland fled to other parts of the world, including Australia, Canada,the United Kingdom and the United States, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many Irish customs, including the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, became quite popular in these countries. However, much of the interest in the St Patrick’s Day events is largely commercially driven in the 21st century.
The most common St Patrick's Day symbol is the shamrock. The shamrock is the leaf of the clover plant and a symbol of the Holy Trinity. Many people choose to wear the color green and the flag of the Republic of Ireland is often seen in St Patrick’s Day parades around the world. Irish brands of drinks are popular at St Patrick’s Day events.
Religious symbols include snakes and serpents, as well as the Celtic cross. Some say that Saint Patrick added the Sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross. Other Irish-related symbols seen on St Patrick’s Day include the harp, which was used in Ireland for centuries, as well as a mythological creature known as the leprechaun and a pot of gold that the leprechaun keeps hidden.