It’s a national holiday that’s celebrated in more countries than any other. It’s the day that gets the whole world to think green and go green.
But if you really want to get a piece of the party, you’ve got to come to Ireland. Ireland on St Patrick’s Day is unlike anywhere else in the world.
David Fallon, who blogged live from the leading parade bus during the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin in 2011, sums up the atmosphere:
“I remember an Irish wolfhound the size of a bungalow trotting in front of the tooting Boston bands, and youngsters peering over their parents’ heads via makeshift ladders. Everyone in the crowd had two things in common – green gear and smiles.
“A Chicago DJ was right beside me and just blasting his excitement (live) down the phone,” remembers David. “He was doing his best to have his voice heard over the big band. "This is incredible," he was saying, "the people, the music, the atmosphere! To see it live is everything, you should be here!"
"Then he leans over to call to the crowd "I don’t have a hat!" Sure enough, green bonnets are thrown into his hands…Lucky he didn’t ask for a pint!”
From parade to pint
While 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed daily around the world, on St Patrick's Day that number rises to 13 million. This celebratory day actually evolved into a national holiday by chance. It was originally just like any other religious feast day, but it just happened to fall during Lent.
Lent meant abstaining from many personal indulgences, and St Patrick’s Day in between gave everyone a little break. U2 front-man Bono explained it all during a televised St Patrick’s Day Special on Channel 4 a few years ago: “The whole thing about Lent – as any Irishman will tell you – is that it stops on St Patrick’s Day.”
What’s on where
In Dublin, the run-up to St Patrick’s day is an excuse for a four-day festival embracing everything from salsa dancing to céilís (traditional dances); while Derry-Londonderry’s Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish Language Week) is a lively and linguistic build-up to the big day, with events throughout the city. The oldest St Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland is in County Wexford. It began in 1917 and is still going strong.
For the earliest, you’ll need to head out west, to Dingle. They kick things off at 6am, with the Dingle Fife and Drum Band taking to streets.
Limerick uses St Patrick’s Day to host the International Band Parade and Competition; while Cork blithely states that “Cork is THE place to be on St Patrick’s Weekend”. The city’s festival incorporates a food and crafts market, as well as music, street performers and children’s workshops.
Christian heritage and St Patrick
County Armagh claims a strong connection to St Patrick and the island’s strong Christian heritage. This is where the great man founded one of his churches, so it’s only natural that they throw a week long festival in his honour. A candlelit singing performance in the cathedrals is a highlight in anyone’s diary, along with its stunning daytime parade.
Every town and village will do something for St Patrick’s Day. Just make sure you come to the source to experience it for yourself…