This day in history: Happy St Patrick’s Day!


March 17 is the one day in the year where everyone is Irish. 

Over time the day has come to be associated with wild revelry and in some cases, brings out the worst of the Irish stereotypes. But the day itself commemorates something very different.

The day celebrates Ireland’s foremost saint. Patrick is believed to have been born into a wealthy Roman-British family. According to the Declaration (reportedly written by Patrick), he was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. He is believed to have spent six years on the Ireland as a shepherd. It was during this time that he “found God”.

Patrick was then told to flee to the coast where a ship would be waiting to take him home. On arriving at home, Patrick became a priest and returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The story of St Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland is reportedly an allegory to the work he did among the druids, as Ireland has never had any snakes.

The drinking and revelry associated with the day arose out of the lifting of Lenten restrictions in order to celebrate the day.

Tradition holds that St Patrick died on March 17 and was buried at Downpatrick. Read more.
Other events on this day:

1999 – Allan Boesak, anti-apartheid activist, theologian and director of the Foundation for Peace and Justice is found guilty of embezzling R1.3 million donated by international companies for development projects in the Western Cape. He was sent to prison in 2000, but released in 2001, having served just over a year of his three year sentence. President Thabo Mbeki cleared his criminal record in 2005, after which he was readmitted as a church minister. Read more.

1992 – The results of a referendum among white voters only on whether apartheid should be abolished or not are announced by President FW de Klerk. The result was an overwhelming ‘yes’ in favour of abolishing the system that enforced racial inequality and injustice. Read more.

1950 – The Suppression of Communism Act 44 of 1950 comes into effect, severely limiting what the media is allowed to report. Read more.

1904 – August Bebel who represented the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the German Reichstag (Parliament), condemns the treatment of the Herero in Namibia by Germans. Bebel demands that the war be terminated, calling the Herero resistance a “justified liberation war” and refuses to budget for its continuation. Read more.

1820 – The first of the British settlers, encouraged to immigrate to the Cape as a result of high unemployment in Britain, arrive in Table Bay on board the ships the Nautilus and the Chapman. From there, the settlers moved to Algoa Bay (now known as Port Elizabeth) where they settled. Read more.