The Malta Independent 17 November 2018, Saturday

St Patrick’s Day in Malta - how it started, and where it's going

Roberta Micallef Sunday, 18 March 2018, 10:30 Last update: about 9 months ago

St Patrick’s Day –17 March – has become a day of international acclaim, celebrated with enthusiasm around the world every year, and with Malta also joining in on the annual celebrations.

The 17th of March is the day when, according to tradition, St Patrick – a Christian missionary in Ireland and the country’s Patron Saint – died in 461.

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Given Malta’s characteristic obsession with feasts, the popularity of St Patrick’s Day here comes as no surprise. But for many, the feast revolves around a different credo: alcohol.

The Irish connection with Malta can be traced back to the turn of the 20th century. The Royal Dublin Fusiliers, an Irish infantry regiment of the British Army, were stationed in Floriana and would naturally celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the area. For them, the day became a reason to get together and remember home, as many Irish people still do today. Because of them, celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Malta began in Floriana, and while it is still celebrated there today, most people swarm to Spinola on the 17th.

Floriana Local Council Executive Officer Godwin Azzopardi explained to The Malta Independent on Sunday: “These same Irish troops are reckoned to have started celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Malta, particularly in the Balzunetta district in Floriana, where they were stationed. Naturally, the bars in Balzunetta (what Strait Street is to Valletta, Balzunetta was to Floriana) were all too eager to please their patrons as this meant business.”

After the Floriana team beat the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in a football match, the Irish soldiers amicably handed over their team colours, white and green and these became the official club colours of the Floriana Football Club.

Allegedly, the Floriana residents earned the nickname of ‘tal-Irish’ because of this victory and in the Balzunetta area of Floriana, an image of the saint adorned one of the streets. Another reference to this Irish connection in Malta was the Irish Born Ironmonger and the Shamrock Bar & Restaurant.

The Irish Ambassador to Malta, HE Mr Padraig Mac Coscair, explained that while the feast has become an international celebration, the large Irish diaspora in Malta contributes to its popularity here. The Irish embassy empowers the diaspora by supporting Irish society and culture in Malta – St Patrick’s Day being its most predominant date.

He mentioned a number of similarities between Malta and Ireland, noting that one is our shared sense of humour, and, preceding that, our renowned hospitality.

The Ambassador added: “We have a lot more in common than we have different,” and when it comes to the celebration of St Patrick’s Day, this certainly applies.

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