It's well known that St Patrick's Day parades were originally a diaspora phenomenon, and the first really big parades were in the eighteenth century in the USA. But the first recorded celebration of St Patrick's Day in what is now the United States was a good deal earlier. St Augustine, in Florida, is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the contiguous USA founded by Europeans, in 1565. It was a Spanish settlement, but in 1600 the parish priest was an Irishman, Richard Arthur, known as Ricardo Artur locally; and he invoked the protection of St Patrick (rather than St Augustine, after whom the town was named) for the settlers. Local historian Michael Francis has found records that Artur organised public celebrations of St Patrick on 17 March 1600 and 1601, including a public procession in 1601. It's not quite St Patrick's Day as we know it; there was not much of a diaspora in Florida, and the tradition ended when Artur left the town. But let's take a moment to think of the weirdness of that historical moment.
More locally to here, the Irish College in Leuven claims to be the first place to have celebrated St Patrick's Day as a diaspora festival, with a public sermon in around 1610. The Franciscans at the college were certainly instrumental in helping Luke Wadding to persuade the Vatican to make St Patrick's Day an official feast day of the church. There were Irish colleges elsewhere of course - most famously in Salamanca, Lisbon, Douai and Rome itself - but Leuven claims the earliest documentation, and as they are my neighbours I will take their word for it.
Most years there has been much celebration, both by the college in Leuven and by the Irish community in Brussels. Last year's St Patrick's Day was exactly when the lockdown was imposed, and this year things are not a lot better yet. Here's hoping for 2022.