Saint Valentine’s Day in Ireland

Romantic Irish shamrock for Valentine's Day

Love is in the air – it’s the 14th February again – Saint Valentine’s Day is here!

If ever there was a day of the year to pay tribute to your sweetheart, today’s the day! Buying a bouquet of flowers, booking a table at a fancy restaurant, however you want to mark it, this is the time to do it. And if you’re an ISI student studying English in Dublin, you’ll find that Ireland is a particularly appropriate place to be celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day…

Brief History of Saint Valentine’s Day

Saint Valentine
Saint Valentine

Though there are several others who share the name, the original Saint Valentine was martyred on 14th February in the year 269 AD. He is also the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy, among other things. Over the years, his saint’s day has become associated with a tradition of courtly love. This association was first made explicit by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem from 1382, The Parliament of Foules, which was originally written to celebrate the marriage of England’s King Richard II with Anne of Bohemia. These lines (translated into modern English) seemed to cement the connection of the saint’s day with lovers and love:

For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day

When every bird comes to choose his mate.

The romantic association continued in the years since, and you may even find reference to Saint Valentine in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet of 1601, as spoken by the unfortunate Ophelia:

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day

All in the morning betime

And I a maid at your window

To be your Valentine.’

Since then, the day has acquired a connection with love and lovers. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, cards with amorous verses began to be distributed, pre-written on behalf of courting lovers who had not the time to write their own tributes to their loved ones. This was the origin of the famous romantic cliche: ‘Roses are red, Violets are blue, etc.’ In modern times Saint Valentine’s Day has spawned an advertising phenomenon, with the old courtly ideal giving way to more contemporary ideas of romantic love.

Ireland and Saint Valentine’s Day

Ireland has an especially strong connection with Saint Valentine. His relics in Dublin are commemorated on Whitefriars Street in the Church of the Carmelites, which serves as a shrine for the saint. Such is the strength of his association with Ireland, that many Irish people have grown up under the assumption that the saint was actually Irish after all!

Romantic Irish shamrock for Valentine's Day
Romantic Irish shamrock for Valentine’s Day

Another romantic tradition in Ireland occurs only two weeks after Saint Valentine’s Day – but only every four years on a leap year! On every 29th February, women are allowed and indeed expected to propose marriage to men, an inversion of the cultural norm prevailing elsewhere on other days. Yes, it’s a slightly dated custom, but it has charm. This practice is said to have originated in a deal that was made between Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid, but this story could well be apocryphal – who knows?

In rural Ireland, meeting people and forming romantic attachments can be difficult, particularly for the likes of bachelor farmers living in isolated areas. To this end, the time-honoured tradition of matchmaking still takes place – most notably in the County Clare village of Lisdoonvarna, where every year (though not around Valentine’s Day), a large and popular Matchmaking Festival takes place. With much merry singing and dancing and convivial cheer all round, it’s a heartwarming chance to maybe meet your significant other.

So there you go – if you’re an ISI student studying English in Dublin, there is no more romantic place to be than Ireland on 14th February. Saint Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love – have a lovely time!

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