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Saint Patrick's Day: A Celebration of Irish Heritage

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Such a festive day calls for wearing green and shamrocks, watching parades, and maybe going out. But of course, there is more to the meaning behind Saint Patrick’s Day and its celebrations.

Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, which date is traditionally thought to be the death date of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Saint Patrick was born likely in England during the 5th century. Only conjecture is available for some events of his life, but there is a general consensus that he was a Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland bringing or perhaps consolidating Christian practices within Ireland. Beginning in early seventh-century writings, Patrick is accredited with being a great leader and revolutionizing local pagan-deity theology. Parades and celebrations began early on and here in North America they were meant not only to revere Saint Patrick, but to also celebrate Irish heritage, culture, and identity.

My Irish ancestry is existent, but the thoroughness is a bit incomplete. In my investigations, I found connections to Ireland on both my mom and dad’s side of the family.

The closest connection to Ireland that I have in my family tree is through an Edward Johnson, my 5th great-grandfather on my dad’s side of the family, being born in Armagh, Ireland, or Northern Ireland, on August 17, 1785. When Edward was young, he took his new wife and left Ireland ultimately landing in New York. They spent some time there, but eventually moved on to Ontario, Canada. After their time in Canada, they moved to Illinois, and then on to Iowa. Although interesting, I wanted to dive deeper and try to find some experience in Ireland that would give a better insight into Irish daily life.

One notable relative I discovered of Irish extraction is an Anne Coates, born in 1699 in Dublin, Ireland. She is my 7th great-grandmother on my dad’s side and immigrated to the United States when she was young eventually marrying a Philip Packer living the rest of her life in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. What we know about her is fleshed out in a legal case where her grandson tells about the stories she would often recount to him about her time in Ireland. Ireland during the late 17th century and on through the 19th century was facing a religious uprising and crisis. A classic protestant versus catholic rebellion was taking place and even turning violent. Supposedly when Anne was just a toddler or baby, some Roman Catholic soldiers came to their village. The soldiers were looking for Protestant refugees probably to lock them up or imprison them. Anne’s mother, a Protestant herself, happened to be at a sympathetic acquaintance’s house who was a Roman Catholic at the time. Upon seeing the soldiers nearing the house, it was recommended that Anne’s mother hide her and her brother in the nearby hay, but Anne’s mother thought otherwise. She instead decided to keep quiet, pretend as though she herself was a Roman Catholic, and keep the two children on her lap. After some exchange, the solders proceeded to stab the hay violently and multiple times with their swords and spears as to assure no one was hiding. It was a blessing to them during such a time of turmoil. Shortly after is when they emigrated Ireland heading to the United States in search of more freedom.

My Grandma on my mom’s side of the family had her DNA test come back showing 2% Irish, so I wanted to dive in and investigate that further. Upon searching my family tree, I finally found a Charles Hughes, supposedly born in 1705 in Ireland. He would be my 8th great-grandfather, but unfortunately no information whatsoever has been found about him, and we don’t even know where in Ireland he was born or from. Being unsatisfied with that, I dug deeper and found more Irish connections! This time, discovering a Joseph Riley, born December 12, 1598 near Dublin, Ireland. My connection to him is maternal, and he is my 11th great-grandfather. His story is incomplete also, however there is some meaning and investigation done concerning the surname Riley. Riley, being spelled many ways throughout texts, likely dates back before the 10th century originally spelled in Gaelic O’Raghailligh, which means descendant of Raghallach. The coat of arms for the Riley family has a green shield for a base, two lions facing each other, and a bloody hand in the middle representing faith, sincerity, and justice. Many important historical figures from Ireland have held this name, carrying on the legacy.

Let this Saint Patrick’s Day be a time to reflect, learn, and celebrate Irish heritage and culture! Do you have any Irish ancestors?? Let us know!

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