St. Patrick's Day and Irish American Heritage Unit Study for Homeschooling Teens

March 16, 2021

On St. Patrick's Day, they say everyone is Irish. Some like to wear a little green for Irish solidarity (mostly not to get pinched), feast on corn beef and cabbage, or enjoy a sweet, green treat. My favorite treat for St. Paddy's day was always a Shamrock Shake at McDonald's.  They still have them, albeit made a little different than back in the 80s and 90s when I purchased them.

Harris Vo on Unsplash

Today's unit study can give teens a break from regular homeschool studies to learn more about Irish history, as March is Irish American Heritage Month.  Discover important events in Ireland, who St. Patrick really was, and why we love to celebrate this holiday, especially with parades and stories about leprechauns.

Several checked links are provided through this unit study to make it easier for your student to explore and research independently.

Who really was St. Patrick?

Was St. Patrick a real person? Yes, he was! But his actual name was Maewyn Succat, the son of a Roman-British officer and deacon. He was not born in Ireland but in England (in today's county of Northamptonshire). Yep. Watch this short video that gives all the facts about St. Patrick and the myths:

How did St. Patrick's Day become a celebration?

St. Patrick's Day is an American-made holiday, which first began in New York in 1762. (New York is also the location of the first St. Patrick's Day parade.) Now, it is celebrated all over the country and globally! (video). Many cities go all out to celebrate the Irish, including Chicago, dying the Chicago River green. 

Read these two articles to get more background on St. Patrick's Day origins:
History of St. Patrick's Day |
How St. Patrick's Day Was Made in America - HISTORY
Saint Patrick's Day | History, Traditions, & Facts | Britannica

Traditional Irish Foods

Believe it or not, corn beef and cabbage, what we usually associate with St. Patrick's Day and the Irish, is actually an American twist on an Irish meal. The Irish usually prefers pork, but when many immigrated here to the United States, they found that beef was a more affordable choice at the time.

Teens love to eat, and learning about a new culture is a reason to have some fun in the kitchen making traditional foods. Here are two recipes to give your teen some experience in the kitchen: Potato Pancakes and Soda Bread.

The famous Irish Potato Pancakes are called Boxty. They can be made from leftover mashed potatoes and some grated potatoes for the best texture. I found this simple recipe for Boxty using buttermilk. There are also some suggestions for variations if you want them savory.  For a recipe that doesn't use buttermilk, try this one at The Spruce Eats.

If you watch any British cooking shows, you have probably noticed that Irish Soda Bread is standard. This may be because no yeast is needed to make this tasty bread. You will need buttermilk for this recipe too, and raisins don't necessarily have to be added.  

If neither of these is appealing, you can always go rogue and make guacamole as a green St. Paddy's day food.

Visit Ireland Virtually

There are many museums to learn about Ireland
, but these will get you started:

 EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum Dublin scroll down the page 
to find the link for a virtual tour, plus teaching tools.
National Museum of Ireland – explore archeology, natural history, art, and history.
For medieval history, check out the Medieval Museum with galleries featuring great treasures of medieval Ireland and Europe and Dublinia Medieval Dublin. 

The Irish Music Experience

The traditional music in Ireland is quite the experience. It expresses much about the national identity, affected by cultural suppression, emigration, and other music genres.

Read more about the origins of Irish music: the instruments, how it can be traced to the Iron Age Celtic era, changes in modern music from the Irish Diaspora, and its 1960s revival.  This website is another resource for information about what traditional Irish music is all about.


U.S. Presidents with Irish Heritage

Interestingly, 23 U.S. presidents have Irish heritage, including President Joe Biden. The most notable president with a strong Irish heritage was John F. Kennedy. He was also Catholic, which created some hesitation at the time for Protestant voters. Many incorrectly believed that Catholics who ran for office would make dual commitments to the United States and the Vatican. Kennedy, the second Catholic to run for president (the first, Al Smith, was unsuccessful in 1928), told voters: "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me."

Read at the National Archives about St. Patrick's Day activities with former presidents along with a photo of the general order by George Washington on March 16, 1780, granting St. Patrick's Day as a holiday to the troops. 

ESSAY ASSIGNMENT: During 1851 – 1920, over 3 million Irish immigrated to the United States. However, many Irish were mistreated (video) called "dirty and diseased" and could only find jobs no one else would do. Do research on the presidents with Irish heritage who held office during this time. Did the public know of their Irish heritage? Did this help or hinder them? If so, how? Did they do anything to help the Irish while they were in office?  Write an expository essay with your opinion on your research.

JOURNALING: James Garfield (the 20th U.S. president) said, "A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck." What do you think he meant? Do you agree? Why or why not?

Important Events in Ireland's History

There are many important historical events in Irish history. In the 17th Century, the English, led by Oliver Cromwell, succeeded in subduing Ireland after several rebellions. Considerable amounts of land, especially in the north, was subsequently colonized by Scottish and English Protestants. The rest of Ireland was predominantly Catholic.

During the 19th Century, the North and South grew further apart due to economic differences. With Anglican Protestants owning most of the land, the result was a low standard of living for the Catholic population.

Protestants and Catholics begin to war over the issue of Irish home rule in the 20th century. Most Irish Catholics desired complete independence from Britain. Still, Irish Protestants were fearful of living in a country ruled by a Catholic majority.

ESSAY ASSIGNMENT: Spend some time reading about the critical Irish events below. For this assignment, write a
narrative essay on one of these events. Use good imagery and describe what life was like for the Irish during that time.

  • Battle of Boyne (1690)
  • The Great Famine (1845-1849)
  • The Irish Emigration (1851-1920)
  • Government of Ireland Act (1920)
  • The Irish Free State and Northern Ireland (1921)
  • Bloody Sunday 1972
  • The Troubles (beginning 1968)
  • Good Friday Agreement (1998)

Movies with Irish History

We know students love to watch movies, and these are some recommended for Ireland history. The list is in chronological order, the date in parenthesis is the movie release date. Check Netflix, Amazon Prime, or another preferred movie service to watch.

Black '47 (2018)

This is a dark revenge drama set in 1847 during the Irish Famine when a massive emigration wave accelerated the conflict with the occupying British Empire.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
This is a war drama set in rural Ireland during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). It tells a fictitious story of two brothers from County Cork. They join the IRA to fight against the United Kingdom for Irish independence. 

Michael Collins (1996)
This biographical drama portrays how the controversial Michael Collins (the notorious Irish patriot known as the "Lion of Ireland") led a war against the British and helped found the Irish Free State in 1922.

Angela's Ashes (1999)
Based on an autobiography by Irish-American author Frank McCourt, this movie focuses on his childhood experiences and impoverished family life in Limerick in the 1930s and 1940s. His father battles both unemployment and alcoholism, while his mother, Angela, becomes stricken with loss and depression as The Great Depression hits Ireland hard.

Brooklyn (2015)
While not necessarily an Irish historical film, it's still work watching. The story is about an Irish immigrant in 1950s New York City, and she has to decide between life in Brooklyn or her old one back home. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Great topic for discussion.

Hunger (2008)

A historical drama about the Irish hunger strike in 1981: it's a compelling and detailed look at prison life during the hunger strike, led by Bobby Sands.

Literature by Irish Authors

To include some classical literature, two famous Irish authors to read are:

Oscar Wilde 
Wrote several books, but best remembered for The Happy Prince (1888) or Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) (both free for Kindle with these links through Amazon)

·       W. B. Yeats
Through this link to, you can read several poems by Yeats. A couple of his famous poems are
The Second Coming and The Tower.  



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