Kiss Me, I’m Irish

What you need to know about St Patrick’s Day, the Irish and their influence in Australia.

This St Patrick's Day, National Geographic takes a look at some of the more far-out facts about St Patrick’s Day, the Irish and their influence in Australia.

St Patrick’s Day is Actually about Snakes

St. Patrick's Day, which is celebrated worldwide on March 17, honours St. Patrick, the Christian missionary who supposedly rid Ireland of snakes during the fifth century A.D.

According to legend, the patron saint of Ireland chased the slithering reptiles into the sea after they began attacking him during a 40-day fast he undertook on top of a hill.
It's admittedly an unlikely tale. Ireland is one of only a handful of places worldwide—including New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica—that Indiana Jones and other snake-averse humans can visit without fear.

Image: According to tradition, St. Patrick chased Ireland's snakes into the sea. PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBIS

But snakes were certainly not chased out of Ireland by St. Patrick, who had nothing to do with Ireland's snake-free status, Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, told National Geographic.

Monaghan, who has trawled through vast collections of fossil and other records of Irish animals, has found no evidence of snakes ever existing in Ireland.

"At no time has there ever been any suggestion of snakes in Ireland. [There was] nothing for St. Patrick to banish," Monaghan said.

The Irish Were Responsible for Australia’s First Rebellion

In 1804 Australia experienced its first uprising - The Battle of Vinegar Hill.

A group of Irish convicts unhappy about British rule in New South Wales attempted a rebellion resulting in the death of at least 39 convicts.

Australia’s Battle of Vinegar Hill began on the 4th March. Rebel leaders Phillip Cunningham and William Johnson were aiming to capture Parramatta and Port Jackson in hopes of establishing an Irish rule in Australia.

Johnson and Cunningham’s plan involved assembling 1000 other convicts and moving on the British settlements.

‘Death of Liberty’ was the war cry adopted by the Irish rebellion.

300 convicts attacked their guards taking supplies and ammunition. The group fractured into smaller groups and  was sent to raid nearby settlements and farmhouses. Unfortunately, many groups became lost and did not return to the rendezvous point- just outside Parramatta. The rebel messenger tasked with giving the group its orders waved the white flag and surrendered all the rebellion’s plans.

Unaware that his reinforcements would not arrive, Cunningham moved to strike the Hawkesbury region.

George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps was alerted to the rebellion and attempted to convince the rebels to abandon their plans- he was met with the war cry: ‘Death of Liberty”.
Johnston fired on the rebellion killing 15 in battle and another 15 later on.

The result of the rebellion led to the enforcement of Martial Law in Australia allowing Governor Philip King to hang the remaining rebels including Cunningham.

An estimated 39 died.

An Irish Australian Tried To Assassinate Royalty

On the 12th of March 1868 and Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, had come to Australia on a Royal Visit. As expected, much like any such visit, people turned out in their masses to welcome the Prince. Unfortunately for revellers the visit took a nasty turn.

The Prince was shot in the back, sending shockwaves through Australia. According to former Newspaper Editor, Steve Harris, the country descended into “moral panic, shame, vengeance, bigotry and political division.”

The culprit, Henry O’Farrell was a young Irish Republican, apparently mentally ill and acting as a lone wolf.  His anger, as a Fenian, was directed towards British Rule in Ireland.

"I'm a bloody Fenian and will die for my country."

Henry O’ Farrell, a child immigrant from Ireland came from a respected family in Melbourne. He was training for the priesthood at St Francis' Church but his career path took a turn for the worse after the deaths of a few close relatives followed by a bout of alcoholism.  O’Farrell became fixated on avenging the Irish by attempting to assassinate Prince Alfred.

Before his hanging on April 21, 1868, O’Farrell retracted his previous statement that claimed the shooting was ordered by other Fenians, instead saying that he had worked by himself in response to “the wrongs of Ireland.”

Prince Alfred survived the shooting and while Ireland did eventually gain home rule for the South, as most people are aware, Australia remains a Constitutional Monarchy.

Ireland Has Its Own Mummies

Ireland is known for its fairy tales of leprechauns and sprites, but it turns out there's something even stranger hiding out in the mists—bog bodies.

Bodies thrown into the bogs of Ireland hundreds of years ago are preserved by this hostile environment. Bogs have very little oxygen, keeping the bacteria that eat dead bodies at bay and allowing bog bodies to be preserved for centuries.

Lead Image: Tollund Man, who was hanged with a leather cord and cast into a Danish bog, is housed at Denmark's Silkeborg Museum. PHOTOGRAPH BY ROBERT CLARK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

One of the most recent of Ireland's bog bodies was discovered in 2011 and the oldest bog body on record at 4,000 years old, which is 500 years older than King Tutankhamun of Egypt.

Though the bog can tell us about the lifestyle, diet and living conditions of a person, it also destroys DNA, so no one knows the bodies' exact lineages. Some scientists think that the Irish bog bodies were former kings, violently murdered and then tossed into the bog because they failed to protect their people from disease or famine.

Little did they know their bodies would be preserved for millennia.

Lead Image: Sydney Opera house Lights up For St Patricks Day, Photo by Mike Young

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