St. Patrick’s Day will soon be upon us, and before you know it, the city of Boston will be decked out in green and shamrocks, and we’ll all be Irish for a day (or two, depending on how much you celebrate).
If you’re from around here, you may also know that March 17 is Evacuation Day, a local holiday that commemorates the day in 1776 that the British troops left Boston. But it’s only a holiday in Suffolk County. Revere City Hall and the Boston public schools will be closed, but most municipal offices and school systems will be open for business as usual.
Here are things you should know about this infamous dual-holiday that falls on March 17.
1St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. The man who would become known as Ireland’s patron saint was born to a rich British family in the late fourth century, and his initial trip to the Emerald Isle was not by choice. According to Philip Freeman’s book “St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography,” Patrick was kidnapped when he was 15 years old and sold to an Irish farmer, and spent the next six years working there as a slave. He eventually escaped and made it home to Britain, but ultimately decided to return to Ireland to preach the Christian gospel. Many myths persist about Patrick to this day, including stories of him driving snakes away from Ireland and using shamrocks to teach people about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “I’m afraid the shamrock story is indeed a myth,” Freeman said in an e-mail to The Globe. “There’s no evidence at all Patrick ever used it. Also, he couldn’t have driven the snakes out of Ireland since Ireland never had snakes.” Patrick is believed to have died on March 17, but that too may not be true. Freeman says the date “is little more than a guess” and even the year of his death remains unknown.
2Origins of these holiday(s). March 17 became a legal holiday in Suffolk County in March 1941. The Globe reported that Governor Leverett Saltonstall was at his home in Chestnut Hill recovering from an operation when he signed the bill, making March 17 – Evacuation Day and St. Patrick’s Day – a legal holiday in Suffolk County. The governor signed his name with green ink.
3We’re wicked Irish. According to the US Census Bureau, 22 percent of Massachusetts residents claimed Irish ancestry in 2014. Some Bay State cities and towns are more Irish than others. In Braintree, for example, 42.3 percent of the population claims Irish ancestry. Several other communities south of Boston — including Scituate, Hanover, Marshfield and Norwell — are also close to having a majority Irish population.
4Irish roots run deep here. When did the first Irish immigrants arrive in this country? If you guessed during the famine of the 1840s, you’re wrong. Irish folks settled here long before that, and have been making their mark ever since. The Charitable Irish Society formed in Boston in 1737, and is still going strong today (the society’s 279th St. Patrick’s Day Anniversary Dinner will take place at the Omni Parker House Hotel on March 17). Irish Bostonians held the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 1862, according to Michael Quinlin, creator of Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail and author of “Irish Boston.” “The 1862 parade may have been the first well-organized parade in Boston (though with the Irish, I’m sure there were earlier attempts made),” said Quinlin. That inaugural parade started at Boston Common and went through many different neighborhoods. By 1901, the starting point of the parade moved to South Boston.
5 The South Boston parade. This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston will be held March 20 at 1 p.m., and the shorter route has angered some parade organizers. City officials have planned for the parade to start from the intersection of West Broadway and Dorchester Avenue, and proceed along West Broadway and East Broadway before coming to an end at Farragut Road.
Emily Sweeney can be reached at