Happy St Patrick’s Day

Today is not the St Patrick’s Day we’d hoped for in Ireland. Our parades are cancelled and most people are cocooned at home, worried about COVID-19.

Let’s take a look at some St Patrick’s day-related genealogy. This blog post stems from some research done as part of the National Library’s Genealogy Advisory Service last year. An American woman came in looking to find her grandfather’s birth record: she was hoping to use it to obtain Irish citizenship. She told me her grandfather was named Patrick and was born on 17th March 1904. For a little moment, my heart sank, because a lot of people think their ancestor was born on 17th March. This may be because people didn’t know their actual birthday and chose to celebrate it on St Patrick’s Day because that was a date they knew. I’ve certainly noticed more people than I would expect use this date when looking at emigrants.

Anyway, in this case, happily she was correct & she knew his parents’ first names, so I soon found the correct person on Irish Genealogy’s collection of birth registers & I was able to direct her to Joyce House to get a legal copy of the certificate. For anonymity, I won’t name the specific man, but he is on this page from Limerick SRD. What amazed me was that of the 10 people listed on this page, we have 7 boys named Patrick (6 are in fact Patrick Josephs), one boy called Samuel and two girls (Margaret & Eileen). This led me to look up the prevalence of these names. First, let’s clear up the Joseph thing: St Joseph’s feast day is 19th March, so these children are named after the 2 saints.

Here’s a chart I made looking at how many boys were named Patrick across the country from 1900-1919 using just 17th March in those years. For these years, it’s possible to look at exact dates of birth on Irish Genealogy. In 1900, 74 Patricks were born on St Patrick’s Day. By 1911, the year of our last available census, it’s risen to 101. 1916 also had 101 but 1917 saw it leap up to 123 and by 1919, the most recent year available, it peaked at 136. I presume that’s something to do with one of our most famous Patricks: Mr Pearse, or to give him the name he preferred: Pádraig Mac Piarais.

Pearse was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising 1916 and was executed in May of the same year for his part in it. Curiously, Pádraig Pearse’s birth record is not on but they have provided a transcription, which I’ve noticed is a recent innovation when a record is not available. In some cases, this is because a birth was registered late and the later year is not yet released to the public but an 1879 birth seems an odd one to miss out. An example of this can be seen in the case of Pearse’s death here – a curious anomaly meant none of the Rising deaths were registered until this century.

Naturally, I then began to wonder about famous people who were born on St Patrick’s Day. Here’s just a selection.

  • Hozier – singer/songwriter
  • Grimes – singer/songwriter
  • John Boyega – actor
  • Nat King Cole – singer
  • Caroline Corr – drummer from The Corrs
  • Billy Corgan – lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins
  • Harry Clarke – artist

This last, Harry Clarke, is one of the greatest 20th century Irish artists, famous for illustrating Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairytales (the originals are in the National Gallery of Ireland) and stained glass work amongst other things. Although many places list Clarke’s birth as St Patrick’s day, including Nicola Gordon Bowe’s definitive work The Life & Work of Harry Clarke, when I looked up his birth registration, it’s on 18th March. Was he really born the day before? Or had they forgotten exactly when his father went to register the birth almost a month later? Who knows?

He did get Patrick as a middle name though!

Finally, and to come back to where I started, I also notice that Italy became a unified nation on 17th March 1861 following the campaigns of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Forza Italia: you will rise again. Andrà tutto bene.

And to the rest of us, Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!

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