Skip to main content

Orange and Green on St. Patrick's Day in History, War, Song and Food

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Belfast Botanical Gardens in Northern Ireland

Belfast Botanical Gardens in Northern Ireland

From the middle of England long ago, my father's family split and moved to Northern Ireland and Scotland - just in time for the Potato Famines!

So, they all packed up and moved to America, bringing St. Patrick's Day with them.

The Colors of St. Patrick's Day

Surprised by Color

Elementary school celebrations in my day encompassed the usual cliches: The pot of gold, the rainbow, the little green clad men, green grass, and shamrocks. We never received any of the real history or even the long lived mythology of St. Patrick's Day.

As my family never celebrated the holiday at home, I knew nothing about it other than the fairy tale portion until high school. Then I learned about the conflict and the colors.

The Irish Flag

Colors and meanings as we learned in the third grade:

  • Green stands for 1) the Gaelic and 2) the Anglo-Norman peoples of Ireland.
  • Orange stands for Protestants of Ireland that were also supporters of William of Orange.
  • White Stands for "union" and "truce." However, war waged in Ireland in the 20th century between the two factions, bloody and with many deaths. War lasted for 26 years, governments and religious denominations fighting among themselves until 1994. Before that, in the 1700 - 1800s, England and Ireland fought and Irish persons were hanged for wearing green.

It is said that Green in the flag represents Irish Catholics and Orange represents Irish Protestants, while the White indicates their reconciliation.

Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and England

Conflict visited all three of these nations, one against another for over 800 years.

The mid-19th century Potato Famines of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are legendary, except few Americans know about only the first one.

The Irish potato crop was not good those years, but English officials sold was was good overseas. The story was repeated in the other two countries as well. England and Ireland were not the best of friends. Neither were Scotland and Ireland.

Today, some of both Scotland's and Northern Ireland's citizenry wants to break away from the UK. Thus, more conflict.

Irish Protestants are the Orange and Irish Catholics are the Green: This is a stereotype that we still see.

The Northern Irish (largely Protestant) conflict in the Troubles from 1968 - 1998 flowed on into the Republic of Ireland (largely Catholic), so these two Irelands were not happy with each other. Indeed, many deaths and other tragedies occurred.

Waves of Irish and Scottish (largely Protestant, and Presbyterian to boot) immigrants went out to America, especially during the Potato Famines and took with them ill will toward the factions they disliked in the UK.

Pockets of these immigrants said they hated either Irish Catholics (evidenced almost a century later in the muckraking of the 1960 Presidential Election campaigns against John Fitzgerald Kennedy), Irish Protestants, and the Irish in general.

Scroll to Continue

A Timeline of War and Peace

The Orange Order in Ireland


"Why is your tie orange?"

This is what was asked of a particular wiseacre who was new to our high school that year. He liked to do things to attract attention to himself, and other students thought he was playing a similar prank with his tie on March 17.

An incoming junior, he wore an orange tie on St. Patrick's Day and was well known aournd school for being the son of the owner of a large tavern. His family was Irish, his grandparents having immigrated to America.

His answer to the tie question was that in Northern Ireland, the people wore orange as a sign of protest against the rest of Ireland and the Catholic Church. And indeed, the wiseacre's family was Lutheran for generations far back.

He went on to say that Italians wear red on March 17, instead of green. Students that tried to fact check this statement with teachers and other students of Italian heritage were disappointed, because nobody seemed to know about wearing red on St. Patrick's Day.

The school librarian also did not have the answer in any of her books and as always, appeared a little disgusted with the question. She always seemed somber and a bit disgusted and we learned later that she was a light-skinned African American and was not permitted by the school administration to admit her heritage to anyone in the school if she wanted to keep her job.

All this nationality prejudice added disgust to my surprise. It was not for two more decades that I would learn that some of my own ancestors moved from England to Ireland and Scotland and their descendants came to America via Liverpool around 1800 - 1840. None ever admitting to Americans that they'd ever lived in Ireland.

Orange Order Flag

Orange Order Flag

Some people say today in the 21st century that wearing Orange on St. Patrick's Day is akin to wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe on Martin Luther King Jr's birthday.

It seems that feelings are still running high between the Green and the Orange.

All of this reminds me of the Blue and the Grey of the American Civil War, although the South became very creative with their uniforms - some even wore colorful kilts and sashes as well as grey uniforms.

To this day in my metro area, some Catholic Irish fathers in my community, in Ireland, and elsewhere in the world that check their children's clothing on March 17 in order to determine whether they have the smallest bit of orange on anywhere. These youngsters are not permitted to wear anything orange on the Irish holiday. This includes shoe laces, hair clips, underwear, and really everything. Some protestant Irish check for green. The bad feelings are not over.


The Orange Order Supports Several Branches

Modern Folk Songs

"The Orange and the Green"

-- by Anthony Murphy of Liverpool, England; Recorded by The Irish Rovers. Sung to the tune of The Wearin' o' the Green.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

My father was an Ulster man, proud Protestant was he.
My mother was a Catholic girl. From county Cork was she.
They were married in two churches, lived happily enough,
Until the day that I was born. Then, things got rather tough.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

Baptized by Father Reilly, I was rushed away by car,
To be made a little Orangeman, my father's shining star.
I was christened "David Anthony," but still, inspite of that,
To my father, I was William, while my mother called me Pat.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

With Mother every Sunday, to Mass I'd proudly stroll.
Then after that, the Orange lodge would try to save my soul.
For both sides tried to claim me, but i was smart because
I'd play the flute or play the harp, depending where I was.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

One day my Ma's relations came round to visit me.
Just as my father's kinfolk were all sitting down to tea.
We tried to smooth things over, but they all began to fight.
And me, being strictly neutral, I bashed everyone in sight.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green.

My parents never could agree about my type of school.
My learning was all done at home, that's why I'm such a fool.
They've both passed on, God rest 'em, but left me caught between
That awful color problem of the Orange and the Green.

Oh, it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen.
My father, he was Orange and me mother, she was green

The Wearin' o' the Green - Irish Rebellion, 1798

The Wearin' o' the Green (1798)

Oh, Paddy dear, and did you hear the news that's going round?
The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground;
Saint Patrick's Day no more we'll keep, his colours can't be seen,
For there's a cruel law against the wearin' o' the green.
I met with Napper Tandy, and he took me by the hand,
And he said "How's poor old Ireland, and how does she stand?"
She's the most distressful country that ever yet was seen;.

They're hanging men and women there for wearin' o' the green.

Then since the colour we must wear is England's cruel red,
Sure Ireland's sons will ne'er forget the blood that they have shed;
You may take the shamrock from your hand, and cast it in the sod,
But 'twill take root and flourish there, tho' underfoot 'tis trod.
When law can stop the blades of grass from growing as they grow,
And when the leaves in summertime their verdure dare not show,
Then I will change the color that I wear in my caubeen;

But till that day, please God, I'll stick to wearin' o' the green.

But if at last our color should be torn from Ireland's heart,
Her sons, with shame and sorrow, from the dear old isle will part;
I've heard whisper of a country that lies beyond the sea,
Where rich and poor stand equal in the light of freedom's day.
Oh, Erin! Must we leave you, driven by a tyrant's hand?
Must we ask a mother's blessing from a strange and distant land?
Where the cruel cross of England shall never more be seen,

And where, please God, we'll live and die still wearin' o' the green.

NOTE: According to these lyrics, the color red was ascribed to England. So far, I cannot find a tradition of red in Italy on St. Patrick's Day.

Good Recipes For All Factions

The following recipes came to me from family who lived in Ireland for some time until the Potato Famines occurred. Catholics and Protestants alike cooked these dishes.

Irish Potato Soup

I always enjoy this dish. For a chunkier version, just skip the blender step below. It's good with (or without) the nutmeg for another layer of flavor. You can also add cooked crumbled bacon as a garnish, bacon being the original meat served in the dish we now have as Corned Beef and Cabbage.


  • 6 medium or 4 large potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 oz butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 Quart of vegetable stock
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped chives
  • Nutmeg to taste (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of flour


  • Wash and peel potatoes and cut into quarters.
  • Peel onion, cut in half and slice the halves thinly.
  • Melt butter in a pot and add potatoes and onions; cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Do not allow onions to brown.
  • Add stock, seasonings, and stir. Then cover and bring to boiling over medium-high heat (keep stirring).
  • Reduce heat to low, simmer 30 minutes until vegetables are tender.
  • Remove from heat and push through a sieve (or puree in your blender), back into the pot.
  • Stir in milk and flour, raise heat and boil (keep stirring).
  • Remove soup from burner and serve with garnish of chives.

More Irish Potatoes, with Onions

Here is another recipe with potatoes. I had not known it was Irish until someone informed me of that fact. For another version, stir in some cubes or shreds of your favorite cheese to melt at the end - - Swiss cheese is delicious in this recipe.

Irish Potatoes and Onions

You will need

  • 8 medium or 5-6 large potatoes
  • 1 bunch of green onions, sliced - all of the white and 1/3 of the greens
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons butter


  • Wash, peel, and boil potatoes in a pot with water to cover until soft.
  • In another pot over low heat, simmer onions in milk for 5 minutes.
  • Drain potatoes, return them briefly to the heat and stir to evaporate remaining water, and then remove from heat and mash.
  • Add the hot milk and onions, salt, pepper and the butter, mix and serve.

Modern Renditions: "Minstrel Boy" & "Wearin' O' the Green" - Notre Dame Bagpipe Band

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 10, 2012:

Thanks to you as well - I enjoyed all your comments and information.

Liz on January 10, 2012:

Sorry very rude of me, I forgot to say ta to you for your article, great wee read.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 05, 2012:

Thanks very much, Liz. That's very useful information to us.

Liz on January 04, 2012:

This is the history me da taught us regards the Irish and the old Scots trips to the new country.

Irish Protestants had mainly settled and intermarried by the civil war, Catholic Irish had their major influx 200 yrs later.

Orange riots led to the banning of many Orange orders so many Protestants of Irish heritage felt they had lived so many generations in America and were accepted more as Americans than as Protestant Irish.

Kerry lass myself so we don't accept Northern Ireland as UK it is all Ireland but we will never accept murder of women and children to have anything to do with Christianity or being Irish and many of us southerners feel the same. We have kin North East England who also suffered at the hands of southern monarchy and Scots too, no one was safe then from religious and economic ruin by the rich and powerful.

We like our American cousins and love their delight in all things Irish. But we never drink green beer, stout or a shot for us and my gran would die of fright if we all wore green but that belief is dying out.

Americans with Irish ancestors are family to Irish and of Irish descent which you should be proud of and we are proud of you but you are only simply Irish bennyderry if born on the Isle, Catholic or no, you are Irish American- which is great so why drop being American! Its a great place to come from. My great granda was Welsh but I am not seen here as a Welsh lass but Irish with a one granda from Wales.

Old faith tho we are me Gran says green is the colour of the wee folk and brings bad luck and that is why we hang Iron horse shoes on our doors to keep the wee green folk from terrorising us by stealing away our babies or spoiling the milk!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 17, 2011:

I think you are right, bennyderry.

bennyderry on December 17, 2011:

It is amazing that Irish Protestants who went to America and Canada became Americans or Canadians whereas the Irish catholics always stayed Irish just think about it because its true

craig237 on April 20, 2011:

chris burgett, you need to really read up on scottish history, scotland was a gaelic catholic country until the reformation, then became the divide, catholic highlanders and protestant lowlanders. and as far as the english, what they did to scotland for 800 years was far worse than what was done to ireland, theres a reason king edward is calles "the hammer of the scots", he slaughtered scottish men, women and children by the thousands for fun. to this day anti-english settiment lives on, as it should, scotland was oppressed by english law for a long time, 6 months imprisonment for wearing a kilt or speaking scots-gaelic. scotland is moving closer and closer to independence. they still have orange order parades in scotland to commemorate the defeat of the jacobites at the battle of the boyne. bunch of twats! my great grandad had his head bashed in by a member of the orange order because he was a catholic highlander and spoke only scottish-gaelic. people tend to toss scotland aside becaue of the 1707 union of the crowns not realizing how tyrant the english were to scotland. Not with standing all the viking/norse raids the scots had to fend off. scottish not british!

Xavier Nathan from Isle of Man on March 28, 2011:

You will find that Irish abroad are far more nationalistic than the ones at home. Growing up in Southern Ireland in the 60's and 70's we viewed Northern Ireland as another planet. Anyone brought up in an atmosphere of such hatred in Northern Ireland stood no chance and in some parts the hatred survives to this day.My grandfather fought the British and the Black and Tans but felt ashamed of the IRA who killed innocent men, women and children with their bombs. My grandfather was a brave man and viewed what the IRA did in Northern Ireland as cowardly acts. Thanks for a great hub. Voted up!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 18, 2011:

And I see Google bypassed a logo in green in order to ensure people thought and did more about Japan. We had the usual parade here yesterday, but it was pretty quiet. I still hear anti-Catholic trashtalk occasionally. I have many Catholic friends and attend mass with them, participating in the parts in which I feel comfortable. No big deal for us!

Amylia on March 18, 2011:

I just don't understand why there is so much fighting between Catholics and Protestants - and not only in Ireland.

I live in Ontario, Canada, and went to a Christian bookstore where I asked if they had any Catholic editions of the bible. They told me that they only serve "real" Christians and of course wouldn't carry anything Catholic.

I just find it so bewildering... we know that we don't agree on some key issues, but can't we still treat one another with dignity and respect?

I did not wear green or orange yesterday, as I personally am not from Ireland, have never been there, and don't completely understand the political implications.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 17, 2011:

That's a good question, Chris, but I have no answer. I never knew any of the relatives that moved to Scotland. I wonder if Craig Ferguson would answer if you sent in an email to his nightly email segment on CBS?

Chris Burgett on March 17, 2011:

Maybe you can help understand something. I am from Scottish descent and I live in the U.S. with not much education on how things work back in my homeland. My great-grandmother always insisted we wear orange on St. Patrick's day as a sign of Scottish Pride. But, now most people think I am a bigot against the Irish or I am an Irish Protestant. Is there a better color I could wear on St. Patrick's day to show my Scottish Pride?

swedal from Colorado on February 11, 2011:

The only tradition I really knew about with St Patrick's Day was wearing green and drinking green - beer that is.

Where is that orange food coloring??? ;)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 18, 2010:

Interesting events occurred on St. Patrick's Day 2010. I received some 19th Century anti-Irish propaganda that was circulating around the Internet, depicting the Irish as ape-human hybrids of some sort. Then there were the usual yearly emails about Irish being all negative qualities one can imagine. I heard some anti-Irish sentiments in my own MidWest community as well.

Another intriguing event occurred a few days earlier at WalMart in Washington TWP NJ, as per the AP " A male voice came over the public-address system Sunday evening at a store in Washington Township, in southern New Jersey, and calmly announced: "Attention, Walmart customers: All black people, leave the store now." Humanity has not yet grown up in all quarters.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 17, 2010:

Here's the evidence for the Irishman that was the basis for Zorro:

Faye Constantino from Florida on March 17, 2010:

I never knew people were hanged for wearing green, just that the Irish considered wearing green unlucky. Now I know why!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 17, 2010:

You're right of course, emo-og. 26 yrs was just a phase of it as I understand current events. On and one it goes, like the War in Iraq, and in some ways worse. I've heard about the bombings. The fact that some upstarts spread rumors that there's no hostility at all anymore in Ireland - or toward the Irish in America - is dead shameful.

emo-og on March 17, 2010:

26 year war? the irish have been fighting the brits for over 800 years mate. its almost a hundred years since we reclaimed the 26 counties known as the republic. and the war may not be over yet. there is still bombings and shootings connected to paramilitary organisations every week.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 17, 2010:

The Irish of either faith are gaining increasing respect over time, although hostilities from various corners still emerge - including abusive statements that none exist, although I see proof evey day.

In recent years, it was dicovered that the legend of ZORRO was based on a real IRISHMAN, doumented in records of Mexico, Spain, and the Vatican, that served in Mexico. A Hub about that is in the St. Patrick's Day mix as well.

caretakerray on February 25, 2010:

Patty Inglish, MS:

I never knew this. thanx for sharing ;)


Robert Ball on March 19, 2009:

My understanding is that the orange in the Irish tricolor flag does NOT stand for Protestants who were anti-(green) Irish, but stands for those Irish Protestants, mainly of the 18th and 19th centuries, who, by virtue of their power and influence, were the only ones who could effectively lead the movement to create an Irish parliament independent of England. Although their efforts failed, they are considered as heroes by Irish people. These Protestants were English in origin(source of their power), were truly Irish in most aspects and were devoted to the Irish people and their cause. Among the most notable were Henry Grattan, Henry Flood, James Caulfeild, and Charles Parnell. I wear my orange shirt with Irish tricolor with pride.

Mr Gino on March 19, 2009:

Italians wear red in honor of St Joseph's (San Giuseppe) day, which is on the 19th. St Joseph is considered the patron saint of Sicily.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on March 18, 2009:

we have a family friend, Irish, and when he does or says somethiing I think is out of line, one of us always pipes up 'well, what do you expect, he's Orange'

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 17, 2009:

I seem to be wearing Orange and Black today :) I must be hungry for Halloween taffies.

thanatos on March 17, 2009:

I am of irish desent in part of my family and when i was growning up i was always told i had to wear green on St Patricks day which l the legion of St Patrick is was that he drove the snakes out of ireland which is more myth than

people know what StPatrick really did was bring cathlic religon to the the displaced germania celts of irealand back in the erally days of ireland

and here is one more fact for those that beleive that celts are irish the truth is the celts came from anicent germany which was called germania that was drive from there home lands by the roman empire under julies ceaser

well later i learn as a teenager that a guy my dad worked with would wear oragne on St Patrick's Day which drove my dad Nuts seeing as her was raised cathilic well later in life as i made my own choice's what to wear i decided that the wearing of oragne on St Patricks Day would my way of tossing my dig in to both religious groups but also if any one does some checking you will find

that long side the irish wearing green on St Paticks Day that the mexicans do as well to Honner the St Patricks brigade that fought long side them agianst

General Sam Houston during the amercian mexican war over the boundary of the usa and mexico so these little facts may better help people understand

this day in history better as for i just like to be conterary to all forms regaurdless the reasons of ones own convitions and if you really want to

support oragne on this day do so but also can be a reminder as well of helen or Troy whom so loved every thing orange as well yet people only whant to wear orange or green hey where is some thing you can do as well why not wear white and just be netural and that way you can be really different

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 26, 2009:

Thank you fopr your insights, Joe G.

Joe G on February 25, 2009:

Understand that the English were committing genocide in Ireland. They were moving out the Irish and bring in Scottish people, hence the term "Scots-Irish."

The Black and Tans were basically, a terror squad that the Brits sent into Ireland to try and subdue the rebellion. They killed lots of innocent people women and kids.

To this day, I have run into English people who consider the Irish lazy and shiftless. Nothing much has changed.

Please don't think of this as an "Irish Problem", it is an "English One". If they had just let the people of Ireland live in peace, no of this whould have happened. But as it is, Ireland is still, culturally speaking, occupied land.

I can condone violence, but how would people feel if Iran took over the North East and said that Christianity and Judism were against the law, women had to wear head scarves, and citizens were imprisoned without charge, trial, or legal council. You wouldn't be too happy about it either.

To a free, united Ireland!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 23, 2009:

Thanks for all the comments - it's interesting to know what others do on St. Parick's Day - and what's customary and not.

Frieda Babbley from Saint Louis, MO on February 22, 2009:

Great hub. Nice info! Not many people know about the orange. My husband is part orange-irish and thus wears orange on St. Patricks day.

KT pdx from Vancouver, WA, USA on February 22, 2009:

Great hub. I knew about the green, orange, red controversy. I'm Lutheran, and some of my family's from Northern Ireland, but my family wears both green and orange on St. Paddy's, because we're American now and mixed with other cultures as well. Good history lesson.

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on February 22, 2009:

Nice info. I was unaware of the orange bit, which is a surprise to me. Thanks for the education!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 18, 2009:

Well, I think that wearing bright red and marching in ranks across a field at an opponenet is pretty stupid as well, so no wonder the Swamp Fox and Geo. Washington were victors in the end, using more effective strategies.

I still enjoy St. Patrick's Day parades and such, but don't wear green to them - or red, certainly.

eovery from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa on February 17, 2009:

This conflict has been second only to that in the  mideast.  Anyone wonder why when the English  marched down the streets in Ireland celebrating the day they overtook Ireland, that it would not cause revolting and violence.  I may be slow, be this was to the point of stupidness on the English part. But well, George Washington is still a trader in the English's eyes, but he is an American Hero in ours.

I did not know about the green and orange.  Knowing about this makes me want to not wear or take part in St. Patty's day anymore.

Keep on Hubbing!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 17, 2009:

ajcor - I have heard of th eblack abnd tans, but know very little about them! So now I must learn.

Anna - it's a bit like North and South Korea, maybe worse, isn't it?

Netters - yes, we have to get some real information someplace else besides school sometimes. :)

Princessa - It makes the topics all the more fun and useful, I think. Great job with HubMob, btw!

Wendy Iturrizaga from France on February 17, 2009:

An interesting twist on the green theme. It is always fun to learn new things in here.

Netters from Land of Enchantment - NM on February 17, 2009:

I grew up not knowing what it was all about. Just that it was a day to wear something green. Thank you for all the great information, and the recipe.

Anna Marie Bowman from Florida on February 17, 2009:

Love the historical information!! I knew about the wearing of orange of Protestants in Northern Ireland. My family is from Ireland, but not the North. I think if I wore orange on St. Patty's Day, I might be shot. LOL!! Kidding, but there is definitely prejudice amongst Irish in regards to north vs south.

ajcor from NSW. Australia on February 17, 2009:

I love St Patricks Day and all the hoo ha that surrounds it - loved your hubmob particularly the historical information - have you come across information on the balck and tans? they were I believe an Irish fighting unit/battalion..thanks for this.....cheers

guidebaba from India on February 17, 2009:

Yes Patty, this is what HP is all about.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 17, 2009:

Thank you so very much, guidebaba. Many HubMobbers are providing information, so I hope you have a splendid time this week!

guidebaba from India on February 17, 2009:

My knowledge on St. Patrick's Day is NIL and hence i did not participate on this week's Hubmob but it always great to learn.

Cheers !

Related Articles