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St. Patrick's Day Celebrations, Songs, and Games

Updated on March 7, 2012

Background History of Saint Patrick

When Irish hearts are happy,

Sure the world is bright and gay,

And when Irish eyes are shinning,

Sure they'll steal the heart away.

March 17 is Ireland's greatest holiday as well as holy day. The festival is held in honor of St. Patrick, Ireland's beloved saint, and the day commemorates, not the date of his birth, but his death on March 17, A.D. 641. His family were Roman citizens who owned an estate on the west coast of England. As a boy of sixteen, he was captured by the Gaels (Irish) and was held as a slave for six years, during which time he tended sheep. St. Patrick's life is so strewn with loving legends that seperating historical facts from imaginary ones is still a big task for the researcher. Here are some of the wonderful stories the Irish love to tell:

When St. Patrick went on missionary journeys, he was always preceded by a drummer boy who announced his coming. He was captured by the Druids several times, but he made his final escape back to Ireland, where he had found memories of being a sheperd to the sheep.

St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate "Trinity in Unity." He told his followers that the three leaves of the shamrock represent the three members of the Trinity; that the stem was the symbol of the Godhead and of the "Three in One."

The best-loved story, of course, is that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. This is only a legend, but the Irish will tell you that one old snake refused to leave, so St. Patrick made a box and asked the serpent to enter. The creature objected, saying it was too small. The saint insisted it was big enough to accommodate him and urged him to try it again. After some grumbling, the snake got into the box just to show it was too small, and at once St. Patrick clamped down the lid and tossed the container, snake and all into the sea. The Irish will also tell you that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland by beating on a drum. Once he struck it too hard and made a hole in it, but an angel appeared and immediately mended it.

The sun refused to set for twelve whole days and nights after St. Patrick died, and stood perfectly still so as not to bring a new day without him. Thousands of mourners came to his funeral from long distances. So many torches and candles were carried that it is said everything was light as day.

St. Patrick's Day also has an agricultural significance. It is on this day that stock are turned out to pasture for the summer. There is an old Irish saying, "St. Patrick turns the warm side of the stone uppermost," and potatoes are planted on that day.

Pious legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island,[59
Pious legend credits St. Patrick with banishing snakes from the island,[59 | Source
Legend (dating to 1726, according to the OED) also credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of 'three divine
Legend (dating to 1726, according to the OED) also credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of 'three divine

St. Patrick's Day Parade

St. Patrick's Day is not just a great day for the Irish, but for everyone. It has become a good old American custom to wear a bit of green on March 17, even though our ancestors never set foot on the Irish soil. All over the United States, the day is one of rejoicing and merrymaking, especially in the larger cities where the streets take on a green haze in honor of Ireland's beloved saint and the traditional St. Patrick's Day Parade. The Irish are known for high spirits and deep feeling, and the parade is a joyful occassion nobody wants to miss.

The St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City is said to have more Irishmen than there are in Ireland itself. Other notable parades, take place in Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta, all cities with a large Irish population. People love watching the parade, not only because it is gay and colorful, but the Irish perform many "hi-jinks" along the way to amuse the crowd. The women carry all sorts of Irish banners along with American flags. The greatest feature of the parade of course, is the rythmic music played by dozens of bands interspersed among the marchers. When the bands play such marching songs as Gerry Owen, Top o'Cork Road, McNamara's Band, etc., everyone joins in the lilt and rejoices with the Irish.

On St. Patrick's Day many thousands of little fabric shamrocks, Ireland's chief emblem, are sold on steets in America. The florist shos also feature little pots of this mystic plant of Irish fame. County Cork is the center of shamrock trade in Ireland, and each year several million plants are sent all over the world. In Florida there is a town named "Shamrock," and fanciful Irishmen like to send letters there to be remailed with the Shamrock postmark.

In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day is on the sedate side; loyal sons of Erin may mark the day by singing of the shamrock and downing another pint for Brian Boru, but they also fill the churches and cathedrals, paying homage to the saint whose blessed day it is.

One feature of the parade that annoys an Irish citizen is the prominence of green everywhere. Ireland's flag is a banner made of three rectangles of equal size-green, white, and orange; green representing South Ireland, the Catholic State; orange, North Ireland, the Protestant State; and the white, peace between the two states. In a St. Patrick's Parade, costumes worn by the marchers often include gold and blue colors, in addition to green. The gold represents Ireland's sun and the blue its many lakes. The President's flag is a blue canton with a harp in the center.

Irish Shenanigans

Hostesses planning a St. Patrick's party should keep in mind that the Irish are a carefree, happy-go-lucky race. Serious games should be banned and foolish, hilarious, merrymaking ones be the order of the day. An impromptu program of Irish songs and folk dancing would be most satisfactory to teenagers, but let's take a look at some traditional Irish games and pastimes that can be played by all ages:

Games involving Irish titles such as Kissing the Blarney Stone, Irish Sweepstakes, Bogs of Ireland, etc. are eas to improvise by adding a few props and applying basic rules of other familiar games. Limericks are fun and not hard to write. Naturaly activities from Ireland includes tales peopled with fairies and leprechauns of the Emerald Isle. Many of these folk tales are recorded by famous Irish actors, and the records may be purchased at a music store or found in the local library. Finally, if you would like to include some Irish folk dancing, here are a few good jig tunes: Blackberry Blossom, Flanner Jacket, Gather up the Money, Tatter the Road, and Irish Washerwoman.

Paddy's Pig March (Musical Game)

Everyone has a partner, but one odd person is given a broom on top of which is tied a paper bag head made to resemble Paddy's Pig. To the strains of Irish music, the guests proceed to march around the room; when the music stops, partners are exchanged. The one who was marching with Paddy's Pig tries to get another partner and the one left without a real partner must march with the improvised Paddy's Pig.

Irish Stew Dance

Music- Irish Washerwoman

Numbers-In twos

Starting Position- In rank facing partner, backs of hands on hips Bars

1-8 Hop on left foot tapping right toe forward 4 times

Hop on the right foot tapping left toe forward 4 times

Hop on left foot tapping right toe forward twice

Hop on right foot tapping left to toe forward twice

Hop and tap right, left, right and left toes alternately, forward once.


9-16 Repeat the toe tapping.

1-8 Clap own hands together and pass right shoulders with eight skips into place.

9-16 With right foot pointed obliquely forward, drop weight onto it, lift left foot off the ground backward, and incline the trunk forward. Now transfer weight backward onto left foot, bending the right knee upward and hopping twice on the left foot; swinging from the knee (right, left, left, left) or forward, backward, shake, shake). Repeat twice more.

Jump with right foot in front of left and then change with a jump of left, right, and left feet alternately in front.


1-8 With left foot pointed obliquely forward, drop weight onto it, transfer weight backward onto right foot, and shake the left leg from the knee twice. Repeat twice more. Jump with left, right, left, right foot changing.


9-16 Clap hands and pass right shoulders with eight skips into partner's place. Clap hands and eight skips into partner's place. Clap hands and eight skips into own place, finishing with a bob curtsy to partner.

The Lyrics to The Irish Washerwoman Song

When I was at home I was merry and frisky,

My dad kept a pig and my mother sold whisky,

My uncle was rich, but never would be aisey

Till I was enlisted by Corporal Casey.

Och! Rub a dub, row de dow, Corporal Casey,

My dear little Shela, I thought would run crazy,

When I trudged away with tough Corporal Casey.

I marched from Kilkenny, and as I was thinking

Oh Shelah, my heart in my bosom was sinking,

But soon I was forced to look fresh as a daisy,

For fear of a drubbing from Corporal Casey.

Och! Rub a dub, row de dow, Corporal Casey!

The devil go with him, I ne'er could be lazy,

He struck my shirts so, ould Corporal Casey.

We went into battle, I took the blows fairly

That fell on my pate, but they bothered me rarely,

And who should the first be that dropped, why, and please ye,

It was my good friend, honest Corporal Casey.

Och! Rub a dub, row de dow, Corporal Casey!

Thinks I you are quiet, and I shall be aisey,

So eight years I fought without Corporal Casey.

The Irish Washerwoman Song

Irish Games

Counting Out Game

Riggidy, higgidy, wiggidy, rig,

Paddy dances an Irish Jig,

While feeding potatoes to his pig,

Riggidy, higgidy, wiggidy, rig,

Out goes y-o-u.

Irish Hats

In this game, everyone stands in a circle shoulder to shoulder and hands at side. A hat with bright green bands is placed on the heads of each by a master of ceremonies. On count 1 each man puts his right hand on the hat of the man at his right. Count 2, he removes the hat and places it on his own head. Count 3, he drops his hand to his side. Continue until the master of ceremonies calls "Reverse" and the left hand to hat is used. When the master of ceremonies calls "Stop," everyone remains as he is-any player without a hat steps out.

Little Pig

Music: Sing up the scale and down the scale-

I had a little pig,

He had a curly tail;

He became very fat,

So I took him to a sale.

But now that he is gone

I'm feeling quite forlorn.

This is the type of game where the participants are divided into two sides; they sing back and forth-one side using high notes, the other low ones. The words we have given are only to start the game, the players make up their own to finish the saga and keep the game going. A third group singing "Oink, Oink!" may act as a chorus.

Rocky Road to Dublin

Of course "Rocky Road to Dublin," is a perfect theme for an obstacle race. Obstacles of all kinds-pails of water for Ireland's lakes, things hanging from the ceiling to stoop under and kiss the Blarney Stone, crossing the Bogs of Irelnad, etc.

Potatoe Fortunes

Give each person a potatoe-the number of eyes in the potatoe will tell their fortune:

1- foe

2- presents

3- friends

4- suitors

5- travel

6- courtships

7- wealth

8- broken heart

9- happily married

10- single blessedness

The Wearin' O' The Green Song (Lyrics)

Then since the color we must wear is England's cruel red,

Sure Ireland's sons will ne'er forget the blood that they have shed;

You may take the shamrock from your hat,

and cast it on the sod,

But t'will take root and flourish still, though

under foot t' is trod.

When the law can stop the blades of grass

from growing as they grow,

And when the leaves in summertime their

verdure dare not show,

Then I will change the color I wear in my


And till that day, please God, I'll stick to

wearin' o' the green.

But if at last our color should be torn from

Ireland's heart,

Her sons with shame and sorrow from the

dear ould soil will part;

I've heard whispers of a country, that lies

far beyant the sae,

Where rich and poor stand equal in the light

of freedom's day.

Oh! Erin must we leave you, driven bby the

tyrant's hand?

Must we ask a mother's welcome from a

strange but happier land?

Where the cruel cross of England's thraldom

ne'er shall be seen;

And where, thank God, we'll live and die

still wearin' o' the green.

The Wearing of the Green song

Tea Leaves Tell Fortunes

Irish folk are great tea-drinkers, and this is what the leaves that are left in the bottom of a cup have to say:

1- A ring means marriage. If it is clear, there will be happiness. If the ring is thick and indistinct, someone will try to destroy that happiness by stealing the love of husband or wife.

2- A mountain shows friends of high degree.

3- A clear sun means great good luck. If the sun is thick, on the other hand, only misery is in store.

4- A moon at the bottom of a cup means good luck; in the bottom it shows that, while luck will come, it will take its time.

5- A cross means trouble.

6- A letter with dots all around it means money is on its way. If the letter is in the open and near the heart, a love letter may be expected soon; if entirely in the open, good news is on the way.

7- A tree means health; more than one tree foretells the fullfilment of all one's wishes.

St. Patrick's Day History

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland 2011

Dying the Chicago River Green


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