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King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III chose St. Patrick's Day to be his official birthday. But why did neither he nor anyone else know his actual biological birthdate?

(c) Copyright 2004 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

Every year March 17 is recognized as St. Patrick's Day. 'Tis a day to honour the memory of the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and chased the snakes out. These days it's mostly a chance for all people to feel Irish at heart, speak some blarney, and perhaps to hoist a pint.

But for a century and a half, this day has also been recognized in Hawai'i as the official birthday of King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III. He chose St. Patrick's Day to be his "official birthday" and made it a national holiday. As a man of Irish ancestry, and gazing upon a piece of the old sod brought to me from the ancestral homeland by my friend, the late Patrick W. Hanifin, I am pleased to declare Kauikeaouli an honourary Irishman, at least for today. So hoist a shamrock-decorated glass of Harp light or Guinness stout in memory of the Hawaiian monarch who was Irish-at-heart, His Royal Majesty Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III.

Now there's a tale to be told, and 'tis no blarney. I'll keep it short so we can hele on with the paahty.

Why is this day the "official" birthday of Hawai'i's third King? Ah, matey, now there's a mystery. Indeed, a double mystery. The first mystery is: Why is it that nobody knows the actual date of the king's biological birth? The second mystery is: Why did the king choose St. Patrick's Day to be his "official" birthday? After exploring those mysteries, we'll toast the memory of the King while recalling why he was so important in Hawai'i's history.

(1) Why is it that nobody knows the actual date of the biological birth of Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III?

Remember that Kauikeaouli was the second son of Kamehameha The Great by his sacred wife Keopuolani. Although Kamehameha had many wives, including his favorite wife (and later regent of the Kingdom) Ka'ahumanu, the children he had with Keopuolani were universally recognized as the official successors to the throne, even before they were conceived or born, because of her extraordinarily high mana and therefore high rank. Keopuolani was the ali'i with the highest geneological status in the Kingdom. She had the kapumoe -- the prostrating kapu, which required all persons in her presence to lie flat on the ground or, when crawling on hands and knees, to always remain below her level (including her husband, the great king himself). Thus there was no doubt whatever that everyone in the community knew that this child would have extraordinarily high geneological status and political rank and would be next in line to become king, second only to his older brother Liholiho.

The birth took place probably in 1813, 1814, 1815, or 1816 at a time when Kamehameha The Great had already consolidated power by killing all opposing chiefs during more than 20 years of bloody warfare, and by receiving the surrender of a frightened King Kaumuali'i of Kaua'i without actually attacking him. The missionaries would not be arriving until 1820, but already there was active commerce with England, France, Russia, and the United States. The Western calendar was known and used for commercial transactions. So in view of the baby's great importance, it is surprising that his date of birth was not remembered. It is often said that he was only ten years old when he assumed the throne in 1825 following the death of his older brother, Liholiho Kamehameha II; but Samuel Kamakau said he was nine at the time.

Of course the Hawaiians had no written language until after the missionaries came. But Hawaiians had a very strong oral tradition, which included the ability of some people to recite geneologies for a hundred generations, or to recite the entire Kumulipo of 2100 lines. Hawaiians had a lunar calendar. Each day had its own name and a set of prayers appropriate to the special activities to be performed on those days. Hawaiians created chants, prayers, and hula to commemorate special events; and passed those down from generation to generation. With such a strong oral tradition, it is amazing that nobody remembered the day (on the lunar calendar) when Kauikeaouli was born, or associated that important event as being x-many days after some other major event (or perhaps on the same named day of the lunar month but 5 months later). With such great memory, and the ability to recite extremely long lists, it is amazing that information about Kauikeaouli's birth did not get remembered or passed down for the ten to twenty years it would take until most Hawaiians had learned to read and write and use the Western calendar.

The name "Kauikeaouli" was given to him to commemorate the miraculous circumstances of his birth -- which is another reason why the date of his birth should have been easily remembered. His name means "placed in the dark cloud (of death)." The reason for that name is that he appeared to be stillborn. When the expectant crowd attending the birth at Keauhou (Kona) saw that he was dead, the Kahuna named Kapihe was summoned from several miles away (at Kuamo'o) and revived him by fanning and sprinkling with water and praying. After a few minutes this "faith-healing" was successful. Such a miraculous birth of such a high-ranking future king is remembered today by stories passed down to us, except that nobody today can be sure of the date or even the year it occurred. Very strange.

A note at the end of this essay documents some of the conflicting dates for Kauikeaouli's birth, and the fact that other dates from the same time period are known exactly.

(2) Why did Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III choose St. Patrick's Day to be his "official" birthday?

It has long been a custom for European royalty to proclaim a chosen date as their official birthday when public celebrations could be held. Even today, when birth certificates officially record birthdates and newspapers publicly report them, some royals prefer to celebrate an "official" birthday on a different date. Even some "ordinary" people do this, most notably the one person out of every 1461 who is born on "leap day" February 29 and wants to celebrate a birthday every year.

At some point during the early years of his 30-year reign, when the Western calendar had been officially adopted by the Kingdom government, Kauikeaouli chose March 17 as his official birthday so the nation could celebrate an annual holiday in his honor. It is unclear why he chose St. Patrick's Day. The politically correct theory says he did it because he had a special affection for the patron saint of Ireland, an island nation like Hawai'i with a tradition of "little people" (leprechauns) similar to the Menehune. Some say he did it because he was an alcoholic, and wanted to give the Kingdom a holiday so everyone could have an excuse to join Hawai'i's people of Irish ancestry in celebrating. Some say he did it because it filled a gap in the nation's calendar of holidays, between Christmas and Ka La Ho'iho'i Ea (sovereignty restoration day, July 31,1843). Those who are knowledgeable about Hawaiian religion might speculate that Kauikeaouli must have had a spiritual or astrological reason for choosing March 17, although that reason was not explained back then and cannot be understood with clarity today.

(3) Why is Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III important in the history of Hawai'i?

One obvious reason why he is important is that he was Hawai'i's longest reigning monarch, holding power for almost 30 years (1825 to 1854). But the real reason for his importance is that he made fundamental changes in government and society that brought Hawai'i into the modern world.

Kamehameha The Great had seized power as a ruthless military dictator. Although he became somewhat benevolent in later years, he continued to hold absolute power as the giver of laws and the owner of all the lands and waters of Hawai'i. When he wanted to buy weapons and consumer goods from Europeans and Americans, he ordered thousands of Hawaiian men to stop fishing and taro farming and to collect sandalwood and deliver it to the harbors, until all Hawai'i was stripped of sandalwood and many men and their families died of starvation. Liholiho, his first son by sacred wife Keopuolani, became king in 1819 and within a few months (under the influence of liquor and of his stepmother Ka'ahumanu) ordered the old religion to be overthrown and the temples and idols burned. Liholiho hesitantly welcomed the missionaries in 1820 several months after he had abolished the old religion. But his alcoholism was debilitating, and he had no other major accomplishments during his 6-year reign.

When Kauikeaouli became King in 1825, he was still only about nine to twelve years old. His stepmother Ka'ahumanu made most of the decisions for him during his first ten years as King. But as he became an adult and started exercising real power, he decided to assert his growing independence from Ka'ahumanu and the old chiefs, and to rely more upon his American missionary advisers, especially Rev. Dr. Gerrit Judd and Rev. William Richards.

In 1839 he proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, for the first time recognizing that both ali'i (chiefs) and maka'ainana (commoners) had certain inherent human rights, and thus by implication limiting the power of the King. In 1840 he proclaimed the first Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, setting up a Legislature and a Judiciary. He thus gave up absolute political power and became a constitutional monarch. In 1848 he began the Great Mahele, creating private ownership of land in fee simple. Thus, he gave up the right of Hawai'i's Kings to seize land and redistribute it arbitrarily to family and friends. The reforms he established before his death in 1854 provided that everyone born in Hawai'i, along with any immigrant willing to take a loyalty oath and become naturalized, was a subject of the Hawaiian Kingdom with voting rights and property rights equal to the rights of the natives. Thus Kauikeaouli as sovereign King of an independent nation of Hawai'i exercised self-determination on behalf of his native people and of all Hawai'i's people to move Hawai'i forward toward a modern system of laws with liberty and equality for all.

Kauikeaouli also made the first two attempts to have Hawai'i annexed to the United States. In 1849, responding to pressures from Britain and France, he prepared a provisional deed to cede the Kingdom of Hawai'i to the United States, and gave it to the United States Commissioner, but it was never implemented because the pressures abated. In 1854 he signed an order directing his Minister of Foreign Relations to take steps to ascertain the views of the United States regarding annexation of the Hawaiian islands and the terms and conditions under which such annexation could be obtained. A treaty was drafted by the Hawaiian government in August, 1854 providing for the admission of Hawai'i into the United States with the status of full statehood; but during informal negotiations the United States did not agree. Soon thereafter the King died.

So as we celebrate St. Patrick's Day, let's raise our glass of Guinness Stout in a toast to Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III, an Irishman-at-heart who made this his official birthday. Here's to the great and good King Kauikeaouli, who gave us all equality under the law regardless of race; a man ahead of his time, who tried to bring Hawai'i into America half a century before annexation actually happened.


1. Some exact or nearly-exact dates on the Western calendar are known for important historical events within a few years of Kauikeaouli's birth. For example, Fornander says the Battle of Nu'uanu Pali occurred in mid-April, 1795. Kuykendal says Kamehameha I died on May 8, 1819; and the date when Liholiho publicly broke the kapu by eating with women occurred in the first week of November, 1819.

2. Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau wrote numerous newspaper articles during the mid-1800s about Hawaiian history and pre-contact cultural practices. Those articles were later collected and published as a book, "Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii" most recently republished in the revised edition of 1992 by Kamehameha Schools Press. On page 260 Kamakau says that Keopuolani gave birth to her first-born child, Liholiho, in Hilo in 1797; her second child was born prematurely and died at Wailupe; her third-born child was Kauikeaouli born March 17, 1814 at Keauhou North Kona; and her fourth child was Harriet Nahi'ena'ena, born in 1815. BUT on page 422 Kamakau says Kauikeaouli dies December 16, 1854 and "He was born at Keauhou at North Kona, Hawaii, on the day of Hune on the 11th day of Hinaiaeleele, August 17, 1813 by the English calendar, although some claim March 17 as the date." However, on pages 257-258 Kamakau says that on May 4, 1825 the bodies of Liholiho and Kamehamalu [returning home from their fatal trip to England] were delivered at Mamala and "As he [Kauikeaouli] was only nine years old at the time ..." [but if he was born on March 17, 1814 then he would have been 11, not 9, on May 4, 1825]. Kamakau's book has a series of photographs of paintings, between pages 258-259. The captions for those photos were clearly written long after Kamakau did his writing; but those captions identify Kauikeaouli 1813-1854; and Princess Nahi'ena'ena 1816-1836. It is very strange that an oral tradition that allegedly passes down accurate 100-generation geneologies and 2100-line chants can have such a wide variation for such an important person's birth month (sometimes August, sometimes March) and birth year (variously 1813, 1814, or even 1816 if he was 9 years old in May of 1825). Even the age-difference between Kauikeaouli and his dearly beloved sister Nahi'ena'ena varies between one year and three years depending on what source is used (brother and sister were deeply in love, and she bore him a child who died in infancy).
** But see also Note #9, below, for information that further contradicts Kamakau's second-offered date of August 17, 1813.

3. Following are two webpages which describe truths and falsehoods about St. Patrick:

4. In Spring, 2002 a wonderful article was published that traces the growth of citizenship and voting rights in Hawai'i, including the great contributions made by Kauikeaouli. Patrick W. Hanifin, "To Dwell on the Earth in Unity: Rice, Arakaki, and the Growth of Citizenship and Voting Rights in Hawai'i," Hawaii Bar Journal, Vol. V, No. 13, pp. 15-44. It can be downloaded in pdf format from:

5. Those interested in exploring the connections between Ireland and the Kingdom of Hawai'i might also enjoy reading an article by Bob Dye in the Honolulu Advertiser of Sunday, March 16, 2003 (Clickable URL below). Dye asks why Irish people, plagued by the potato famine and emigrating throughout the world, were not recruited to work on Hawai'i's sugar plantations. Dye explains that King Kalakaua, on his round-the-world diplomatic and labor-recruitment cruise in 1881, had made an unfortunate comment in London taken as an ethnic slur against the Irish. News of that slur traveled quickly to Ireland and caused the Irish to be so angry with Kalakaua that he dared not step off the boat when it arrived at Dublin. Dye adds that in 1887 "Kalakaua's Queen Kapi'olani and his sister, Princess Lili'uokalani, didn't go ashore either time their ship anchored in Ireland's Cork Harbor. Royalty was not welcomed by Irish people then, especially royals who were on their way to help Queen Victoria celebrate her Golden Jubilee of rule over too much of the world, including Ireland." Incidentally, some people of Irish ancestry continue to have ethnic-related difficulties in Hawai'i, and have even felt compelled to change their names. Mr. Dye's article was sent to me by a friend, who writes: "I one day achieved a level of consciousness (at age 6?) and found myself ethnically 100% Irish. I was born 'Kevin Emmett Geoghegan but in 1988 - in Hawaii - legally had my last name changed to the phonetic "Gagan" (gay-gan) so my fellow Americans would now be able to pronounce my name, even if they would never be able to spell it. Ironically - because of the extremely large Filipino local population - my name is still often mispronounced as 'Gah-gahn." I’m told 'Gagan' is also a Filipino name. A Filipina bank clerk told me I didn't look that Filipino, as have others on the phone telling me I don't sound Filipino." Here is Bob Dye's article:

6. Picture of shamrocks taken from:

7. Picture of Kauikeaouli taken from:

8. On St. Patrick's Day 2004, the Kaua'i Garden Island News published an article about some of the connections between Ireland and Kaua'i. Here is that article:

The Irish and Kaua‘i


St. Patrick's Day is an auspicious date to recount the unique ways Kaua‘i and Ireland are knitted together. While no mass immigration of Irish workers ever happened during the 1800s when workers from around the world were recruited to work on the island's plantations, the Irish have played key roles here. On March 17, 1942, first defenders from the Mainland came ashore at Port Allen to defend Kaua‘i's shores against a Japanese military invasion. Those men where members of the famed Fighting 69th Irish regiment of New York City. The soldiers later left to fight in the South Pacific and other Pacific combat zones of World War II. Other Irishmen came to Kaua‘i as individuals, and made their way into key positions in government and business. Prominent Irish surnames found recorded in Kaua‘i's history include Moragne and Coney. The famed Leprechauns, the little people of Irish fame, are sometimes compared to the legendary Menehune of Kaua‘i. The roots of this comparison is likely a turn-of-the-century elaboration on the Menehune legend made by Waimea merchant C. Hofgaard. Hofgaard related the Menehune to the Norwegian brownie, giving a face to the Menehune, according to Christine Fayé, director of Gay & Robinson's sugar mill and plantation tours. A significant chapter of Kaua‘i history beings with the arrival of an Irish Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. A. Walsh. Walsh came ashore at Koloa on Dec. 22, 1841, and celebrated the first mass on Kaua‘i, according to the text of "Saint Catherine Parish 1887-1987," a book published to mark the centennial year of the Kapa‘a church. Walsh established a small chapel and school at Koloa, which became the mission of St. Raphael the Archangel, and worked at establishing Roman Catholic missions on the North Shore, founding St. Maxine's at the mouth of the Hanalei River, and St. Stephen's at Moloa‘a. The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Hawaii offers a way for those of Irish descent to celebrate their heritage in a Hawai‘i setting. The charitable and fraternal organization was founded in Honolulu on March 17, 1955, and is best known for its annual St. Patrick's Day parade, Hawai‘i-style. "From the Emerald Isles to the Hawaiian Isles" is a motto of the group, which traces its roots to the first Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, which was formed in Philadelphia in 1771. Membership information is available on the Internet at webtaylor. com/fsons.

9. On Sunday August 15, 2010 I, Ken Conklin, visited the recently renovated Hawaiian Hall at Bishop Museum. On the top floor, near the whale's tail, there is a glass-enclosed display case devoted to Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III. A printed one-page biography lists his birthdate as August 11, 1813; however, no source citation is provided. Later that day I asked several docents in Hawaiian Hall if they knew where the information came from, but none did. I asked who on the museum staff might know, and was given the name of a high-level museum staffer. The following day I phoned that staffer and left a message which was not returned. A few days later I phoned the general number for the museum library and spoke with a (different) staffer, who did not know the source of the birthdate but said she would refer the question to the same staffer I had previously called. No answer has yet been forthcoming. I would guess that the museum might have a file folder for each display case to keep track of the source of information contained in it, so it might not be necessary to re-do original research. In any case, the birthdate of August 11, 1813 must be regarded as unreliable even though posted in a display case in the highly esteemed Bishop Museum, until the source can be at least cited and hopefully verified. In note #2, above, Kamakau gave two dates very different from each other, one of which is 6 days different from the date in the display case: in one place Kamakau said March 17, 1814, and in another place he said "the day of Hune on the 11th day of Hinaiaeleele, August 17, 1813 by the English calendar."


(c) Copyright 2004 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved