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.