The role of St. Patrick in Downpatrick: From traditional pilgrimage to contemporary parade

  • Therese Cullen

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores how St. Patrick’s Day became detached from the celebration of a fifth century Christian Saint to the contemporary setting where it is caught up in tensions between religion, nationalism and commodification. It explores this matter through a research study of Downpatrick, a place where one might expect religion, and specifically the life and character of St. Patrick, to be the outstanding feature of its annual rituals of pilgrimage and parade bearing his name in the town's title. It does so by exploring the specific nature of the Downpatrick St. Patrick's Day events, and it will examine these primarily through the lens of invented tradition. The thesis draws together concepts of pilgrimage, parade, place, community, identity, ritual, symbol and consumerism and recognises that these are part of a broader global trend. Against the background of a worldwide trend to shift from a religious feast day to a globalised event that focuses on national identity and consumerist values, the thesis examines the history of St. Patrick as a symbol and how that symbol has been used by different groups at different times to tell a particular story.

Utilizing a variety of social research methods, both ethnographic and archival, it analyses how St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have become detached from their religious origin and considers the various elements that draw upon the Saint for legitimacy of a historical, nationalist, religious narrative. Using ethnographic narratives, this thesis allows the creators and the participants in the celebrations to speak for themselves and reflect a twenty first century vision of what St. Patrick means to them. As such the thesis is a snapshot of a particular time and a specific place and of a very relevant Saint.

It concludes by arguing that the annual feast day has become a blend of nationalism, tourism and commodification. In other words, the religious feast day has at different times been used to accommodate Christian Triumphalism, Irishness, commodification and tourism. It concludes that there is more attention paid to the pub than to the pulpit.
Date of AwardJul 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJonathan Skinner (Supervisor) & Dominic Bryan (Supervisor)

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