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Why have there been no official Scottish St Patrick’s parades?

People all over the world have reason to celebrate their national saints, with St Patrick a cultural totem for the Irish diaspora. Dr Joe Bradley explores why there have been no official parades in Scotland.

Depending on your cultural background, in Scotland you might celebrate a day set aside for the likes of St George of England, St David of Wales, St Isadore of Seville, St Elizabeth of Portugal, or perhaps St Stanislaus of the Polish city of Krakow.

Your willingness to celebrate one of these patron saints will probably depend on the strength of your religious beliefs, whether you were born in or now live in Scotland, whether your forebears came here as immigrants from another country, where in Scotland you live, your sense of self, family and community, your understanding of culture and tradition, knowledge of history, social and political awareness, as well as your upbringing.

National saints’ days and related special occasions are maintained as part of religious and/or popular culture across the globe. If people wish to publicly commemorate any of these then they normally do so unless, due to religious, social or political constraints, they feel a necessity to carry out these celebrations in private. Where and when they do take place such celebrations usually revolve around a certain meaningfulness for those who participate.

Celebrating saints

Simply put, if a saint has religious, moral, national or cultural meaning, they will be celebrated.

St Andrew is, of course, the biggest saintly cause of national festivity and fraternity in Scotland and, like festivities around Robert Burns, there has been a rise in related celebrations in recent years, partly tying in with a decline in the sense of Britishness, a rise in Scottishness and an increase in Scottish nationalist and patriotic feeling in the country. St Andrew’s Day (November 30) is very much a cultural and national celebration in Scotland.

Ukrainian, Polish and Lithuanian saints also have a special place in some homes in places such as Carfin, Cleland, Motherwell and Bellshill in Lanarkshire, where a number of Eastern European immigrants settled in the early part of the 20th century. Many new Polish migrants continue their traditions and heritage and also celebrate their national and local saints as part of their new lives in Scotland.

With Scotland’s history as a major recipient of immigrant Irish Catholics from Ireland, per head of population, it should come as no surprise that a significant number of families and communities in Scotland especially celebrate St Patrick on March 17.

In Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, and in numerous parts of Glasgow, there are schools and churches called after St Patrick. This is a historical and cultural legacy from later 19th and early 20th century immigration. Indeed, those same migrants, almost all living in varying degrees of hardship and poverty, provided almost all of the finance as well as the physical labour to build not only the original churches and schools named after St Patrick, but most others called after other saints. In this process, Irish migrants to Scotland offered Catholicism the numerical and economic re-invigoration that was required to raise the Faith beyond the level of a marginalised tiny post-Reformation Church community (less than 20,000 Catholics in late 18th century Scotland) from the mid-19th century onward.

Popular forename

In various towns and villages in west central Scotland in particular, the name Patrick is familiar, as are other Irish forenames and surnames.

In some towns and villages of North Lanarkshire, such as Coatbridge, Chapelhall, Glenboig, Carfin and Cleland, Irish surnames actually predominate. People of Irish descent and extraction from these areas might visit Ireland frequently, viewing it as a parallel home alongside their adopted one in Scotland.

In addition, Irish dance schools can abound and other aspects of, and avenues for, Irish culture and identity can survive and flourish in and around Scotland’s west-central belt in particular. This is a primary reason why the Irish uachtaran (president) Mary McAleese visited Coatbridge in 2006: to recognise the cultural, religious, economic, social and political contribution to Coatbridge, Lanarkshire and Scotland generally, that Irish migrants and their offspring have made. And also why Taioseach Bertie Ahern dedicated a national memorial to the victims of the Great Irish Hunger in June 2001 at Carfin Grotto.

Recognition of Scotland’s Irish community (mainly but not solely based in the west-central belt), its rich heritage and major contribution to the civic life of the country often, however, is absent in numerous narratives about the country where one might expect to find them.

Glasgow, of all the cities to receive refugees from Ireland as a result of the Great Hunger/An Gorta Mor, and subsequent suffering over many decades, still awaits its first civic St Patrick’s Day parade.

Of course, more publicly, amidst all the cultural facets of Irishness that have life in Scotland, for many people Celtic Football Club in Glasgow’s east end has long played a central role in their self, family and community identities. Indeed, for many Irish offspring in Scotland, Celtic is the jewel in the crown of the Irish sporting and cultural diaspora.

Early Christianity

As with many of the Irish diaspora, St Patrick of course was not born in Ireland. We do know he was born somewhere in Britain; in those areas we now call England, Scotland or Wales. But no one truly knows. He spent most of his life in Ireland and, although not the only one, was outstanding in the process of bringing Christianity to the island: long before the distinctions of Protestant and Catholic evolved. The famous St Patrick’s Breastplate is known among many Christians:


Christ beside me

Christ before me

Christ in eye of all who see me

Christ in ear of all who hear me


It would surely be the case that if we remembered those phrases in our daily lives what a much better society we might develop into; Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere. St Patrick holds a special place in the hearts of many of the Irish descended in Scotland, representing as he does aspects of their ethnicity, faith, heritage, culture and history.

Moreover, St Patrick is one of the most popular Christian saints in the world. Not only it seems was he critical in bringing Christianity to Ireland, but in turn Irish priests, brothers, sisters and lay people subsequently played a decisive role in taking Christianity to many other countries around the globe. Christianity, is still the fastest growing religion in the world and in much of Europe has provided the bedrock of civilisation for almost 2000 years: a fact the Papacy has used to remind Europe’s ruling politicians and social directors of their Christian past, despite the push for a society characterised by secularism and relativism.

For several centuries Irish missionaries, monks and scribes played a pivotal role in the maintenance and development of Western culture and history and many place names and churches around Europe are called after Irish saints.


Nonetheless, like making the sign of the cross in public or choosing to play international soccer for your country of origin, family and community, rather than country of birth, ethnic Irishness and celebrating St Patrick can be controversial in Scotland. Just ask those employees of a Lanarkshire store that pulled down St Patrick’s Day bunting a few years ago in their own workplace: the only branch of this international superstore in Britain where this happened.

Ask those who just a few of years ago phoned a Catholic newspaper during St Patrick’s celebrations and asked where were the advertisements for St Andrew: ‘this is Scotland after all, not Ireland’ they remonstrated.

Ask the letter writer (one of many) to a local newspaper who complained about the holding of a St Patrick’s Day Festival in Coatbridge: “how can this be organised when no corresponding celebration is ever planned for a St Andrew’s day the patron saint of the county we all actually live in.” Or another, “While I realise the vast population of the area we live in comes from Irish descent, I would think by now we would class ourselves as Scottish.”

On the basis of the abuse he used to receive from many popular and media sources in Scotland, former Celtic footballer Aiden McGeady did not pass these commentators Scottish nationality-loyalty test.


Many Celtic football supporters are regularly taken to task for ‘failing’ this examination too. One popular football commentator for over a decade in Scotland used to return to this issue on a regular basis, repeatedly confronting his audience and asking the rhetorical question on his radio show, “We are all Scots after all, aren’t we?” People with such attitudes fail to recognise that bigotry, ignorance, small-mindedness, intolerance and prejudice come in many forms: it can be such things that comprise xenophobic nationalism and nationalistic racism.

In terms of our common humanity and looking outward to our fellow brothers and sisters, locally and internationally, there’s so much that we ‘all’ share. In a Christian sense we should also, when required, look at ourselves and others as human beings first and foremost.

That is, although important, these national and cultural identities, though important in one sense, are not the essence of the Christian life.

Ironically, this perspective is also a form of multi-culturalism as well as a reflection of the idea that we’re all the same but simultaneously different. In many ways Christianity pre-figured the idea of multiculturalism by informing us that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.

Former Irish President McAleese said of St Patrick’s Day: ‘All across the world, this great national feast day is being celebrated by the global Irish family and by many friends of Ireland.

“The name of Patrick invokes for all of us, no matter where we are gathered, a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and of affection for Ireland.

“Patrick truly is patron saint not just of Ireland, but of Irish people and their descendants everywhere’.

St Patrick’s Day is a matter of choice and identity. If it means something to you (and for many born in Scotland of Irish decent it does) or it means something positive to your friends or neighbours, then enjoy the celebration, spiritually or/and culturally. If appropriate, it should not be too difficult to wish welcoming recipients a happy St Patrick’s Day on March 17.

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