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Kelly Green: An Irish Green of St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick brought Christianity to 5th century Ireland. On March 17th, we celebrate the Saint.

This is the expanded version of what Kelly green is. I wrote a brief history of what the colour was a few years ago and it was pretty brief. This is the explanation of the history of who St. Patrick was, his importance in Irish Catholic history, the Irish Rebellion and the St. Patrick’s day parade.

Kelly green is an American term. The other name of this colour would be Irish green. The colour closely looks like a shamrock which is a green sprig. The name derived from the last name Kelly; a common last name from the turn of the 20th century. The first time Kelly green was coined has the description of the colour was in 1917.

Kelly green is named after the common surname found in Ireland. It is a heritage name that goes back to the times of O’Callagah clan. The name has two meanings: troublesome and bright-headed. The colour green was named Kelly green because of the influx of Irish immigrants coming to America who were celebrating the St. Patrick’s day parade.

HEX code of Kelly Green - 4CBB17
HEX code of Kelly Green #4CBB17

Who was St. Patrick?

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (Port Clinton, Ohio) – stained glass. Source: Wikipedia

St. Patrick was a person from the 5th century who taught the people Christianity. He was not born with the name Patrick but was called Maewyn Succat. He was a 16 year old kid living in in the area of Bannavem Taburniae, Britain. Until he was kidnapped by Irish raiders. One of his captors was a high priest of Druidism Milchu. He was enslaved for six years working as a farm hand capturing and tending to sheep. This was the time where his bleak circumstances made him turn to religion. He made a break for freedom on a ship that brought him back to his family in Britain.

He went back to his small town where he learned about the priesthood some time after. Maewyn Succat changed his name to Patricius (Patrick). He travelled across Britain to Ireland teaching people Christianity. He was just one of the many people who travelled across Ireland teaching people Christianity like Palladius. He was baptizing, confirming establishing monasteries, schools and churches. He was imprisoned by some locals and Celtic Druids for his teachings but gave gifts to his captors or found ways to escape.

St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Armagh. Source: Wikipedia

He had a prop using a shamrock to teach the holy trinity, the father, the son and the holy ghost with the three leaves on the green sprig. Patrick might have also influenced the Celtic cross with the sun worshiping symbol inside the Christian cross.

During his lifetime, he wrote two well known pieces of literature, his autobiography called Confessio and a Letter to Coroticus which was denouncing the British treatment of the Irish Christians.

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. My father was Calpornius. He was a deacon; his father was Potitus, a priest, who lived at Bannavem Taburniae. His home was near there, and that is where I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.

Excerpt of Confessio by Patrick – Paragraph 1, Lines 1-4

He died in Ireland on March 17th, 461 AD where he was buried either in Downpatrick, Co Down, or in Armagh. He was anointed into sainthood two centuries later.

He would sometimes be seen in blue

He would sometimes be depicted in blue robes in murals, stain glass and paintings because of the Order of St. Patrick from King George of Britain donning him to be in a sky blue or dark blue called St. Patrick Blue.

HEX code of Saint Patrick Blue #23297A

This a new order of chivalry for the Kingdom of Ireland. The use of the blue would vary over time. The colour is a part of Irish mythology from the 10th century of the sovereignty of Ireland (Flaitheas Éireann) queen named Gormfhlaith was often depicted in light blue robes. Her name translates from ancient Irish words to “blue sovereign.” It wasn’t until the uprising of the Catholic Irish against the Anglo-Irish and Protestant Irish that the colour blue was switched out for green.

The earliest known image of Saint Patrick, from a 13th-century manuscript. Source: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Celebrating St. Patrick

The celebration of St. Patrick happened a few centuries after his death. St. Patrick’s Day started as a minor holiday in 1631 which the church declaring it has Feast Day or Pattern Day (‘pattern’ derives from the word ‘patron’, as in ‘patron saint’.) March 17th was recognized as one of the 35 feast and fasting days of Lent in Ireland. Lent prohibitions would be waived for the day to celebrate, eat, drink and dance. The dancing and the drinking most likely took place during the 1700s.

There were drinking games like Pota Phadraig (Patrick’s Pot) that had a floating sprig of a shamrock in a glass of whiskey before chugging it down. It’s also called “drowning the shamrock.” The drinking game comes from an old legend about St. Patrick and an innkeeper. St. Patrick was served a very small portion of whiskey from an innkeeper. Teaching him a lesson of generosity, he told the innkeeper that there was a devil living in the cellar in order to banish him the innkeeper must change his ways. When St. Patrick came back to the innkeeper, his glass was fully filled and St. Patrick banished the devil from the cellar.

The Independence of Ireland in the 1700s

Ireland was brought under the English control during the reign of King Henry the VIII. He named the pace the “Kingdom of Ireland.” with a dark blue flag. This flag is used as the Standard of the President of Ireland after its re-adoption in 1945. This flag is mainly used like a state’s flag and flown secondary to the country’s flag. But it is one of the many flags Ireland had over the years since the 16th century.

The people wanted to use green for national pride but this was seen with violence during the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641. Catholic landowners and bishops rebelled against the authority of the English crown and their large plantation that was ruled under King James I in the early 17th century. Many Irish Protestants died during the rebellion. A military commander Owen Roe O’Neill helped lead the rebellion with the Confederation of Kilkenny. A group that wanted to govern over Ireland and kick out the Protestants that controlled the northern parts of Ireland. The Catholics wanted religious freedom in their country, a place that was once their own land.

The Confederation of Kilkenny had a flag used for their fights against the Protestants. The green colour was used in the flag of independence. In the 1790s, the Society of United Irishmen made a flag with a cláirseach in the centre. The cláirseach was the traditional harp from the Celtics in Ireland. It was a triangular shaped wire strung instrument that required skill and a part of the Gaelic ruling class. The green colour is based on the shamrock green from St. Patrick and the green emerald-like fields within the country. This flag later became known as Confederate Ireland or the Union of the Irish.

The Wearing of the Green is an Irish ballad from supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798.

The colour was used to go against the Protestant colour of orange and English colour of red. The bright green colour was the colour of rebellion.

By 1848, a new flag was created and was flown for the first time by Thomas Francis Meagher. It had green, white and orange. The green was for the Catholic Irish nationalists, the orange was for the Protestants and the white was for the representation of hope and peace between the two sides. This flag is still used today.

The Great Potato Famine and The Green Machine

In the 19th century, a wave of Irish immigrants came to America looking for a better life in the land of opportunity. This became very apparent after the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s to 1850s. This was caused by potato crops failing due to water mould (Phytophthora infestans). Potatoes were a staple food for many Irish people, especially the impoverished people. This was the worst famine that hit Europe ever. After the Corn laws on grains made foods like corn and bread expensive to have. Many people died in the millions of starvation due to the famine while the country had a moderate export of rabbit, peas, beans, fish and honey in an 1847 report.

The people took their traditions, cultures and national pride to their new homes. They carried Irish flags and American flags for the pride of their own country. In 1762, New York City had the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration has a parade. Most of the people who were apart of the parade were the homesick, Irish ex-patriots and Irish military members stationed with the British Army in New York. It was a place where they could feel free to hang out.

Many had a hard time finding work but found prejudice about their culture, accent and religion. Even to have political cartoons about them in terrible disgraceful light. Many Irish-Americans organized their voting block named the “Green Machine.” This was to help swing votes for political hopefuls. Then the St. Patrick’s Day parades started to be must-attend events for hopeful politicians, like President Harry S. Truman attended New York City’s Parade in 1948. But was a great morale booster for people fighting in the Great War in 1917.

Illustration of The “Kelly Motor” by Charles G. Bush in February 1884 in Harper Weekly.

My thoughts on why Kelly Green is called Kelly Green is because of the 19th century New York City politician “Honest” John Kelly. He was a working-class, Irish-Catholic with immigrant parents. John Kelly was the leader of Tammany Hall who was very influential in the Democratic political machine in New York City after the fall of its corrupt boss, William Tweed. When John Kelly won against Tweed’s candidate, Oakey Hall, he took a European and Holy Land trip for a few weeks. He came back to learn about the 1871 fall of the corrupt political ring of the “Tweed Ring” and the legal prosecutions that hindered Tammany Hall. The Democratic Reform party did not want to see Tammany Hall dismantled therefore they elected John Kelly to lead the organization due to being a great leading political manager, being away from the corruption that took down the hall and has a person who was Irish-Catholic, he represented the city’s largest ethnic group. Therefore, the name is based on the ribbon colour of his campaign and based on his Irish background to honour him.

Multiple cities around the world celebrated St. Patrick’s day in their own way. Chicago dyes the Chicago River with a bright green dye turning the river green. New York having the largest and oldest parade. Tokyo having a dog show. Green beer. Green cupcakes.


Time – How Green Became Associated With St. Patrick’s Day and All Things Irish

RTE | Boston College – FEATURE: Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in a time of war & revolt

Biography – St. Patrick Irish Genealogy Tool Kit – A history of St Patrick

Encyclopædia Britannica – Saint Patrick

St. Patrick’s Day- Pota Phadraig or Patrick’s Pot

History – History of St. Patrick’s Day

History – Irish Potato Famine

The Smithsonian Institution – Should We Be Wearing Blue on St. Patrick’s Day

NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade – History

HarperWeek-Elections: John Kelly

HarperWeek: Cartoon Of The Day: The Kelly Motor

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