The History of St. Patrick’s Day—and How to Celebrate at Home

by | Mar 2020

Kerrygold Irish butter and cheese

Say cheese! Lunds & Byerlys stocks several imported cheese and butter favorites, such as Kerrygold. PHOTO BY:  TATE CARLSON

How St. Patrick’s Day came to the U.S.— and how you can find Irish goods in Woodbury to celebrate this month.

Most Americans are familiar with St. Patrick’s Day as a holiday for acknowledging our country’s Irish heritage and Irish-American customs. You probably know the day is named for St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, who is credited by the Catholic church with bringing Christianity to the formerly pagan country in the fifth century. You might even know that St. Patrick’s Day is, frankly, a bigger deal here in the United States than it is in Ireland. Even if you’re something of an Irish-American history buff, we invite you to dive a little deeper into the holiday’s traditions this year and find some new fun facts to share around the green-draped table. We also talked with a local grocer about Irish imported products you can find right here in Woodbury. So pull up a chair, pour a glass of Guinness, and Éire go Brác!

St. Patrick’s Day in America

St. Patrick’s feast day was first recognized by the Vatican in 1631, and first celebrated in the 1700s and 1800s in Ireland as a quiet religious observance, honoring an important figure in Irish history. If you lived in Ireland at the time, you might have marked the day by going to church, but that was about the extent of it. However, when Irish soldiers and immigrants started arriving in the U.S. in large numbers, especially during the huge migrations of the mid-1800s, they started to use St. Patrick’s Day as a way to celebrate their homeland. (It wasn’t even a public holiday in Ireland until 1904.)

American cities with large Irish populations—like Boston and New York—put on municipal St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, which spread across the country as Irish immigrants became politically powerful. And, after World War II, holidays in general started to be seen as marketing opportunities (as in, the strong post-war economy could support greeting cards, decorations, gifts and so on), and St. Patrick’s Day was no exception.

Even through most of the 20th century, St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. was celebrated mostly by Irish-Americans. Historians agree that large, secular parties to mark the day really started spreading—regardless of your heritage—in the 1980s. And the rest, as they say, is history—the history of one of the most successful cultural exports (an entire nation’s day) in the world.

In a 2015 Time magazine piece, Boston College professor Mike Cronin writes that St. Patrick’s Day is “the closest thing in America to National Immigrant Day, a tribute not only to the Irish, but to the idea that Americans are all part ‘other.’”

Why Corned Beef?

As you might know, corned beef and cabbage—the ubiquitous meal associated with St. Patrick’s Day—isn’t particularly common or popular in Ireland. Rather, it was a common dish eaten by American farmers in the spring time, especially in New England, and so it became the unofficial fare for March 17.

The beer, of course, is a straightforward nod to Ireland’s penchant and skill for brewing, which Irish immigrants brought with them to the U.S.

What to Serve on March 17

With the east metro’s relatively prominent Irish-American heritage (as evidenced by St. Paul’s popular St. Patrick’s Day parade and other festivities), you don’t have to go far afield to find Irish goodies for your own St. Paddy’s party. We asked the experts at Woodbury’s Lunds & Byerlys to share their picks for Irish imports and Irish-inspired eats and drinks for your spread.

Five Farms Irish Cream
This award-winning Irish cream liqueur is the first farm-to-table kind in the world, sourced and produced in County Cork, Ireland. The cream is produced by just five farms in County Cork, all family-owned, with a long history and connection to the land. Try it on the rocks, in a classic cocktail like a sidecar, or as a float: Mix 2 oz. Five Farms liqueur, 1/2 oz. butterscotch schnapps and 1/2 oz. vanilla-flavored vodka. Shake and strain into a glass over ice; top with 2 oz. of root beer and whipped cream.

Five Farms Irish cream liqueur

Corned beef and cabbage meal
If you’re not up for cooking this classic Irish-American feast at home, pick up a ready-to-heat meal from Lunds & Byerlys’ deli. You’ll also find their delectable Kobe corned beef on its own, which you can cook up at home according to your family’s favorite recipe.

For your sweet tooth
The talented bakers at Lunds & Byerlys are cooking up some specialties for St. Patrick’s Day, including 3-inch Irish cream cheesecakes (perfect for sharing with a friend or keeping all to yourself—we won’t judge); shamrock cookies; classic Irish soda bread; and an Irish cream torte. Yum. If you’re planning a get-together, you might want to call ahead with your order.

Dairy do
Ireland is known for its stellar butters and cheeses, and Lunds & Byerlys stocks several imported favorites, including Kerrygold aged cheddar cheese with Irish whiskey, Kerrygold Dubliner cheese with Irish stout, and Kerrygold pure Irish butter—all of which are flavored with that certain Irish terroir that can transport your tastebuds with a single bite. Serve them on a cheese plate with some crackers, and you’re all set for appetizers.


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