Did you know? 12 Franco-Irish links to celebrate St Patrick’s Day

Links between the two countries go back centuries, including to the saint himself

A view of the French flag and Irish flag flying next to each other against a cloudy sky
The similarity between their flags is just one of the interesting links between the nations
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France is today celebrating la fête de la Saint-Patrick, or Saint-Patrice, more commonly known as Saint Patrick’s Day, after the patron saint of Ireland.

That means that if your name is Patrick (or Patrice) it is your day too – so bonne fête!

Did you know however that there are significant links between France and the Emerald Isle?

Here are 12 top facts you may not know.

1. There is a strong Irish contingent in France

Between 20,000-30,000 Irish people are estimated to live in France, including 15,000 in Paris.

There are dozens of Irish bars, Irish bands, and Irish dancing schools. There is even a French federation for Ireland’s favourite sport, Gaelic football, as well as many Gaelic football clubs.

2. The Irish have long come to Paris

Since at least the 16th century, France – and especially Paris - has attracted many Irish people. Many were drawn to study Catholic theology at prestigious institutions such as the Collège des Irlandais. Since then, links between the two countries have continued.

3. Saint Patrick himself had links with France

Some sources suggest that St Patrick may have trained as a priest on an island off the coast of Cannes.

Patrick - whose original name was the rather less-snappy Maewyn Succat - was a Romano-Briton born in Cumbria in the 4th century, but he had French links from birth and throughout his life.

His grandmother was from Touraine (the area around Tours, in the north-west) in what was then Gaul, but as a young man, he was captured by Irish pirates and taken as a slave.

He later escaped and is said to have ended up in the south of France, where he trained as a priest on the Ile Saint-Honorat, one of the two Iles de Lérins.

Although there is doubt around the story, it is clear that these islands were then hailed as a famous centre of Christian learning (it is still home to monks today), and the first archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, certainly attended.

Legend has it that while on the island, the young student designed a chapel in the shape of a clover leaf (the famous symbol of Ireland) on the site of the current Chapel of the Holy Trinity.

The Irish Department for Foreign Affairs appears to endorse the story, saying on its website that St Patrick “trained in France before coming back to Ireland to spread the message of Christianity”.

Indeed, Mr Succat was later appointed as a bishop, took the name Patrick, and was sent to evangelise Ireland by the Pope.

4. The Irish flag was inspired by the French ‘tricolore’

The two flags bear a certain similarity, with Ireland bringing green and orange to France’s red and blue. The flag was said to have been brought to Ireland by Irish patriots, who had travelled from the revolutionary barricades in Paris.

5. The region of Brittany shares Celtic links with Ireland

In one sign of these long-running links, Ireland is always represented by performers at the annual Festival Interceltique de Lorient, which is one of Europe’s biggest Celtic culture events. The president of Ireland has even previously visited for the event’s official opening.

Read more: Celtic nations descend on France to celebrate shared ancestry

6. The Irish cultural centre in Paris goes back centuries

The Centre Culturel Irlandais in the Latin quarter of Paris is housed in a prestigious building that was formerly home to the Collège des Irlandais - a large community of Irish priests, trainee priests, and lay scholars of religion - which was founded in 1578.

And though the newer centre was opened in 2002, the centre’s staff are appointed by the Fondation Irlandaise, which has been responsible for the building and its activities since an 1805 Napoleonic decree.

7. France and Ireland have good economic relations

The official Irish government website states that “investment between [the] two countries is flourishing”, with France now Ireland’s “third largest market for Irish indigenous company exports”, with two-way trade equal to €30 billion each year.

Irish companies also employ more than 30,000 people across France, it states.

8. France and Ireland are ‘getting closer’ each year

No, not literally. But there are more flights and sea crossings than ever between the two countries, making travel between them easier and easier.

The official Irish government website states that there are now over 190 flights a week in the high season from Ireland to 21 French destinations, and more than 40 weekly sea crossings.

This could help explain why Ireland now welcomes more than 500,000 tourists from France every year (making France its fourth-largest market for tourists).

9. France loves Irish food and drink

As well as being the one of the largest overseas markets for Guinness (after the US and the UK, and, perhaps surprisingly, Nigeria and Cameroon), France is also Ireland’s second largest Eurozone export market for food and beverages, and the fourth-largest market globally in this category, with favourites including Irish seafood, lamb, whiskey, and beef.

10. France has an Irish-loving Senator

At least one French Senator, the Socialist Hélène Conway-Mouret, has become known for her passion for Ireland. She spent 25 years studying at Trinity College Dublin (and also did a degree at Ulster University). She then served as the chair of the language department at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

She also founded a Dublin branch of the French Parti Socialiste. She now serves in the Senate as representative of the constituency of French citizens living abroad.

11. There is a institute that focuses on Franco-Irish links

Such are the links between the two countries that there is even a research centre on it. The National Centre for Franco-Irish Studies (NCFIS) at Tallaght, near Dublin focuses on “cultural, literary, commercial, philosophical and historical links”, and even offers courses on the same topics.

12. Guinness and French food may mix well…?

The surprising combination may work better than you would initially think; a quick Google for the recipe Guinness French Onion Soup reveals almost 2.5 million results, including this one with Irish Cheddar croutons.

A worthy culinary experiment to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day if ever we’ve seen one. Sláinte!

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