Break out the Lucky Charms and let loose the leprechauns!
Whether your strongest connection to Ireland is the green beer in your hand or a full-fledged family lineage reaching back to the Emerald Isle, St. Patrick’s Day has been a great excuse to don something bright green, gather with your friends, and party until the wee hours of tomorrow morning. And, if you’re like me, you probably have some Irish blood in your veins. (Heck, my high school mascot, in Oklahoma of all places, was Clancy, the Fightin’ Irishman.)
But anything American, and St. Patrick’s Day owes its origins not to Ireland but to the gold old U.S. of A., can be counted on for somebody trying to make a buck and where’s there’s a buck to be made, there are brands to enforce and trademarks to protect. And for authenticity’s sake, some of those trademarks did originate in Ireland itself.
St. Paddy Day’s Origins
As most of us know, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of the real St. Patrick’s death in the fifth century. Technically, the Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years and because it falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
Saint Patrick, who lived during the fifth century, is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at 16. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people. And in the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture.
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day
Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Patrick on March 17, but the first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place not in Ireland but in America. It seems that a St. Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 17, 1601 in a Spanish colony in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.
More than a century later, homesick Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched in New York City on March 17, 1772 to honor the Irish patron saint. Enthusiasm for the St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City, Boston and other early American cities only grew from there.
Famous Irish Trademarks
There really isn’t any way to trademark the Irish Green color, but two of the better known symbols associated with both Ireland and St. Patrick are protected as trademarks: the harp and the shamrock.
America has the eagle as its national symbol, Great Britain has the lion and the unicorn, and France has le coq, but Ireland has the distinction of being the only nation to have a musical instrument as a national emblem. Harps have been a part of Irish heraldry for over seven hundred years, so it was an easy enough choice when Guinness designed its first bottle label in 1862 using a harp as their logo.
The infamous Guinness (No. 0321014) stout registered its harp as a trademark way back in 1862. To differentiate their harp emblem from the trademarked Guinness emblem, the Irish government turned their harp in the opposite direction of the Guinness harp for trademark purposes. The iconic dark stout travels in equally recognizable containers, each emblazoned with a Gaelic harp modeled on the famous 14th-century “Brian Boru’s” harp, currently preserved in Dublin’s Trinity College. In 1876 the harp was officially registered as a company trademark in Great Britain, under the newly-enacted Trademarks Registration Act of 1875.
According to Irish tradition, St Patrick used the shamrock when preaching the Christian gospel in Ireland to explain the concept of the Trinity. Today the shamrock is also used extensively as a badge by Irish sports teams and for some Irish state organizations and companies. It is also displayed on the uniforms of Irish troops serving abroad.
The Irish government officially adopted the shamrock as a state emblem back in 1985. Both the shamrock and harp can’t be used without official permission. According to the Irish government’s website, anyone who wishes to obtain registration of a trademark containing a State emblem or to use a State emblem in connection with any business must gain consent from the Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
Why It Matters. Most people associate trademarks with more recent inventions like soda pop, clothing brands, and automobiles, but in reality they can date back hundreds if not thousands of years. Indeed, many marks predate the national governments that eventually came to power and created the laws to protect them. If that isn’t impressive, then I’ll have to find some other reason to knock back a couple o’ pints of Guinness this evening.