THE STATE HOUSE — It was 69 years ago Friday that Massachusetts made March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day — a legal holiday in Suffolk County. And though the law is said to formally recognize the day the British evacuated Boston in 1776, the conspicuous coincidence of the calendar certainly did not go unnoticed when the holiday became law: Then-Gov. Leverett Saltonstall signed the bill in green ink.
Saltonstall signed the “act making March seventeenth a legal holiday in Suffolk County,” in both green and black ink, at 4:57 p.m. on March 12, 1941, according to a copy of the law provided by Secretary of State William F. Galvin. Press reports at the time said Saltonstall was given the green ink by state Sen. Joseph L. Murphy of Boston.
Under the law, state as well as municipal offices and schools in Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop — the communities that compose Suffolk County — are all closed on the holiday. Private businesses remain open. The law does not mention Evacuation Day by name, only specifying that March 17 will be a legal holiday.
On March 17, 1776 the British withdrew from Boston in the Revolutionary War, though the Irish tradition marking the death of Saint Patrick dates several hundred years prior to that.
Gov. Deval Patrick has sought to eliminate Evacuation Day as a holiday, as well as the June 17 holiday commemorating Bunker Hill Day that was created by the same law. Critics have characterized both days as “hack holidays” because state workers receive three more holidays than the 10 days spelled out by federal law.
In a speech outlining budget cuts and layoffs last October, Patrick called them “traditions whose time has passed.” Lawmakers have yet to act on his request.