The popcorn stand

During the Comstock mining days, many of the miners who came here to work the mines were Irish, Welsh, Scotch and Cornish. There were countless lively squabbles and skirmishes among the different groups after hours in the local saloons. Nearly all of the successful Comstock mining figures were of Irish descent, including the “Big Four” — John Mackay, James Fair, James C. Flood and William O’Brien.

If I had lived here in those days and made the assertion Saint Patrick was Italian, I’m sure I would have had a fight on my hands. The fact is, the statement St. Patrick was Italian has more truth than most people realize. I still don’t encourage anyone to enter an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day and proclaim the Patron Saint of Ireland was Italian. You likely would get your mouth washed out with green beer and acquire some knuckle bumps on your head.

Contrary to popular belief, Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland. According to the Catholic Church, he was born in Scotland about the year 387 AD. His mother and father, named Calpurnius and Conchessa, were Roman citizens living in Britain, assigned to watch over Roman colonies in the British Isles.

At age 14, Patrick was captured during a raid and brought to Ireland. Six years later, he escaped and returned to Britain and reunited with his family.

Patrick’s travels took him to Gaul (Roman France) and eventually he spent three years in Rome (441-443). After having a prophetic dream, he was ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church and later became a bishop. He then set out to take the Gospel to Ireland, which at that time was a land of Druids and pagans. Patrick succeeded in converting chieftains and entire kingdoms to the Catholic faith, acquiring a large following of disciples. For 40 years he roamed Ireland converting people wherever he went and built churches along the way. He died in Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on March 17, the year 461, after he had gone there to retire.

Since Patrick’s parents were members of the ruling class of Roman citizens in Britain, there’s some speculation Patrick took his name from the Roman word “Patrician,” which was what members of the Roman hierarchy, or ruling class, called themselves.

Many details of Patrick’s life and travels are ambiguous and shrouded in mystery. It’s well known, however, he was of Roman descent. Though not born in Rome, he was born in a Roman territory to Roman parents. If a child is born to American parents in an American territory, the child is an American citizen. Similarly, Patrick was a Roman by birth, since his mother and father were both Roman citizens.

The last time I checked, Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, was located in Italy. Therefore, anyone born a Roman citizen also is an Italian.

For years, I have told people St. Patrick was Italian. Most of them think I’m just joking to get them riled up on St. Patrick’s Day. Some think this is the most absurd thing they ever heard of. All I can say is what I have told you here can be found in many history books about dear old St. Paddy.

I have heard it said everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m of Italian descent, but I enjoy corned beef and cabbage with a tall glass of green beer as much as any Irishman. If you think we Italians don’t enjoy celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, just ask Joe Pastrami, the former District Attorney in Virginia City. He was well known for his St. Patrick’s Day antics.

Dennis Cassinelli is a Dayton author and historian who can be contacted at or on his blog at All books sold through this publication will be at a 20 percent discount and Dennis will pay the postage.


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