A National Holiday in Ireland, St Patrick's Day began as an annual feast day in honor of the Patron Saint, Patrick,(Circa 385-461 AD), in the early 17th century. Usually celebrated on the 17th of March, it was primarily a feast and a holy day for the Roman Catholics in Ireland. Traditionally, families attended church services early in the day and followed up with a big feast throughout the day.
The day of the feast, or St. Patrick's Day, has been moved on occasions at the direction of the church authorities when the holiday falls during Holy Week. This has been done both in 1940 and as recent as 2008; a somewhat controversial decision. One can see from this that St Patrick's Day in Ireland has a more religious tone than the celebrations outside of Ireland, and as celebrations become more secular, more controversy has been generated around the nature of the celebrations.
An act of Parliament created the March 17th holiday in 1903. A law which required pubs to be closed on that day, was passed shortly after and was only repealed as late as the 1970's. So the custom of imbibing huge amounts of liquor on St Patrick's Day was by no means a custom in Ireland. The first St Patrick's Day parades were organized by Irish immigrants in the United States as early as the 18th century. It was not until 1931 that Dublin hosted the first St Patrick's Day parade in Ireland.
Much later in 1996, the first St Patrick's Day Festival was held on March 17th and has grown from a one day to a one week celebration. The festival theme has been introduced by the Irish government as a means to promote Ireland and its culture. But behind all the parades and festivals, St Patrick's Day celebration in Ireland remains primarily, a religious one.
Many government officials as well as representatives of the major political parties of Northern Island and the Republic of Ireland, attend ceremonies at home and as guests of other countries where St Patrick's Day is celebrated. The Irish Taoisigh (the head of the Government of Ireland) is present at special functions both in Ireland and abroad during the week long celebrations and has presented Shamrocks to the US President and House Speaker. It is common practice for the President of Ireland and the Taoiseach to be away from Ireland during their own festivities, celebrating the holiday in different US States, Hong Kong, South Africa and Japan, to name a few.
A visitor to Ireland would have many choices of where to celebrate...