Some traditional St Patrick’s Day customs: Part 2

Continuing on from last years post on St Patrick’s Day Traditions that looked at the origins of wearing the shamrock and the St Patrick’s day cross, this post adds some new information about St Patrick’s day traditions some of which  are long forgotten.   A quick search through the Irish Folklore  Schools Manuscripts essays  written in 1937 revealed some alternatives to wear the shamrock.  It is  clear that by 1937 the wearing of the shamrock  was a nationwide  tradition and  the shamrock had replaced the wearing of other types of plants.  People at the time would also send the shamrock to friends and family outside of Ireland.


Man wearing the shamrock

In the parish of Gortnessy Co Donegal  as well as wearing shamrock people would also  send shamrocks to their Irish friends in America to wear on St Patrick’s. This practice was widespread in Ireland. Also in the parish there was a saying that you should throw your candle and candle-stick away on St. Patrick’s Day.

In the parish of Windgap, Co Kilkenny, St Patrick’s Day was known as ‘Cross Day’,  long ago people

put a cross of a furze cipper on the shoulder and wear crosses.

In the  parish of Shankill Co Tipperary while people wore the shamrock in 1937

long ago they used to wear a black sally cross on the right shoulder.

In Coshmore & Coshbride are of  Co Waterford one custom which was dying out in 1937

the making of a cross on the left sleeve with a stick that had been partly burned. The blackness of the stick is used  to trace out a cross. It is called St Patrick’s cross.(West Waterford Branch I.N.T.O (roll number n/a)

This tradition was also found the parish of Ballyragget Co Kikenny.

On that day in years gone by people used to burn the hazel rod and the head of the family marked the sign of the cross on each persons arm. This was because  St Patrick put the serpent out of Ireland with a hazel rod.

The Schools manuscripts also provide more information on the making of the  St Patrick’s Day Cross. In south Tipperary at Ardfinnan School  the process of making of the St Patrick’s Cross is detailed.


Ardfinnan (B.), Cahir (roll number 16077) p197

The day before Patrick’s day each child brought an egg to school. The yolk was used to get the yellow colour for the badge and the juice of a green plant used to  achieve the green. At the school at Curragh also in the same parish  the green to colour for the cross was  made from the juice of the pennyworst plant. The cross itself was  a Maltese style cross was drawn on circular piece of  white paper. The cross was coloured green with yellow at the top of each arm. In both school any left over eggs were sold and the money used to buy sweets for the children.  Interestingly the essays for Ardfinnan school say in this parish men wore shamrock in their caps from St Patrick’s Day till Palm Sunday.

From my brief search it is clear that prior to the 20th century there was some regional variation of the St Patrick’s day traditions and I have no doubt that a more extensive search of the Schools manuscripts will turn up many more traditions.


Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Windgap, Thomastown (roll number 5698)

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Shankill, Roscrea (roll number not listed)  p181

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts, West Waterford Branch I.N.T.O (roll number n/a)

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Ballyragget Convent p46

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Gortnessy (roll number 7235),p351.

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscripts Ardfinnan (B.), Cahir (roll number 16077) p197

Irish Folklore Collection Schools Manuscript An Churrach (Crogh), Árd Fhionáin (roll number 7911)


Some traditional St Patrick’s Day customs: Part 1

Tomorrow is St Patrick’s day, the feast day of Ireland’s National Saint.  This post will briefly look at some traditions and customs  associated with this day, such as the wearing of  symbols of the saint. I have been reading  Irish Trees by Niall Mac Coitir, a wonderful book full of interesting folklore and mythology concerning Ireland’s native trees.   In the section on Sally or Willow trees , the author refers to an old custom from  Cill Rialaig Co Kerry that relates to St Patrick’s Day.  On St Patrick’s day  the people would wear  a ‘cros cipín dóite’ or ‘cross of charred pin’.   The ‘cross’  was made  of burnt sally twigs and worn on the right arm.

Throughout the rest of the country it was and still is, a common practice for people to wear a plant called shamrock upon their person.

The wearing of a symbols for St Patrick on his feast day appears to be quiet an old tradition  Thomas Dinely in 1681 noted

The 17th day of March yeerly is St Patrick’s, an immoveable feast when the Irish of all stations and condicions  wore crosses in their hats  some of pins, some of green ribbons, and the vulgar superstitiously  wear shamroges [shamrock], 3 -leaved grass…. (Danaher 1972, 58).

Dinely provides the earliest accounts of  the wearing of the shamrock. According to folk tradition  the shamrock was used by St Patrick as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity during his missionary work.  The shamrock is not referred to in any medieval accounts concerning Patrick and the earliest written record of this tradition dates to the 18th century (Mac Coiter 2006, 38).

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin’s Church, Wicklow, Ireland (Andreas F. Borchert [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (, CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons )

In  1726 botanist Rev Dr Threkeld who identified shamrock as white clover and noted

This plant is worn by the people in their hats on the seventeenth day of March (Mac Coitir 2006, 38).

On St Patrick’s day the shamrock is normally pinned to a coat or jumper.

Dinely’s account also mentions the wearing of St Patrick’s day crosses. This is now an extinct tradition and refers to the wearing of homemade badge.  Mac Lir in 1890 gives an account of these  crosses  what they looked like and and how they were made

For a week or so preceding the National Festival, the grown members of the family are occupied in making “St Patrick’s Crosses” for the youngsters, boys and girls; because each sex have a radically different “Cross”. The  “St Patrick’s Cross” for boys, consists of a small sheet of white paper, about three inches square, on which is inscribed a circle which is divided by elliptical lines or radii, and the spaces thus formed are filled in with different hues, thus forming a circle of many colored compartments Another form of St Patrick’s Cross is obtained by drawing a still smaller circle, and then six other circles, which have points in the circumference of this circle, as their centre, and its centre as their circumferential point, are added; after which one large outer encompasses the whole, thus forming a simple and not inartistic attempt at imitating those circles or bosses of Our beautiful Celtic cross pattern. The many spaces, concave, convex or otherwise, thus formed are then shaded in; each a different hue and constitutes the “St Patrick’s Cross”….(Danaher 1972, 60)

He goes on to say that  little boys wore their crosses on their caps (Danaher 1972. 60).

For the girls Mac Lir notes the cross

is formed of two pieces of card-board or strong thick paper, about three inches long, which are places at right angles, forming a cross humette. These are wrapped or covered with silk or ribbon of different colors, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the centre…. (Danaher 1972. 60).

The cross was then worn pinned to the chest or shoulder  of the girl (Danaher 1972. 60).  Examples of these crosses are to be found in  collections of the National Museum of Country Life.

Badge and St Patrick Gallery.jpg
An example of a badge on display in the National Museum of County Life

There are other  old customs associated with St Patrick’s Day and I hope to discuss them further in another post.


Danaher, P. 1972. The Year in Ireland.  Cork: The Mercier Press.

Mac, Coitir, N. 2003.  Irish Trees, Myths, Legends and Folklore.  Cork: The Coillins Press.

Mac, Coitir, N. 2006.  Irish Wild Plands, Myths, Legends and Folklore.  Cork: The Coillins Press.