From the Weird to Wonderful: How the Irish Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

In a recent article by Keith O’Hara, author of The Irish Road Trip Guide, he was asked, “How is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated in Ireland?” He replied, “Well, having lived in Ireland for 35 years, I can tell you it varies from person-to-person. Some families go all out on March 17th, attending St. Patrick’s Day parades and hosting Paddy’s Day parties (it’s a public holiday in Ireland). Others, myself included, like to avoid the crowds and head for the mountains. But one thing is for sure, whatever the various things people do on St. Patrick’s Day, in Ireland it runs from the weird to the wonderful!”

He goes on to say, “Although the date for St. Patrick’s Day is set in stone each year, the day of the week changes. So, for example, if St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Monday, then you’ll likely get Paddy’s Day-themed events taking place on the Friday and Saturday before. People tend to think that Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day is a widely celebrated event, but that isn’t the case. Many people attend parades and St. Patrick’s related events, but many just enjoy a day off or begrudgingly head to work for the day.

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is marked by many towns, villages, and cities with parades of varying sizes. For example, an enormous parade takes place on St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, while Kilkenny has a monster six-day festival. Waterford still has its parade after becoming the first Irish city to hold one back in 1903.

People don’t just spend the day in one of the many pubs in Ireland. Take a look below.

  1. Parades are a key part of the many St. Patrick’s Day traditions, and no two parades are the same. In Limerick, if you stick around until the evening you’ll be treated to a spectacular fire show, while in Sligo their parade has been going for over 50 years and features drums, dinosaurs and much else. In Dublin, a massive parade takes place during the morning that gets broadcast on national television.
  2. The “Greening” of Landmarks. The color green is synonymous with St. Patrick and up and down the country you’ll find some of the most famous landmarks in Ireland lit up in green for a few days around March 17th. From the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary to Athenry Castle in County Galway, it’s at night when they are at their most vivid. Dublin is, of course, where you find the most “greened” landmarks.
  3. The Wearing of Green. Many places in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day are one big sea of green and you’ll find shops selling a mix of green gear leading up to the big day. Whether it’s a bright green top hat (a false orange beard is optional) or a flamboyant green skirt, pop it on and head off on your merry way. You’ll find some people wearing very elegant, carefully selected green garments while others will throw on anything green, regardless of how ill-fitting it is.
  4. Shamrocks on the Lapel. The shamrock is one of the iconic symbols of Ireland and you’ll see it quite frequently around St. Patrick’s Day (and during the rest of the year if you walk into any tourist souvenir shop).
  5. Many people head into Ireland’s towns, villages, and cities, as they know they’ll find the pubs buzzing away.
  6. Patrick’s Day Foods. Although there are plenty of traditional Irish foods that are widely eaten in households across Ireland, others are often saved until special dates throughout the year. Dishes like stews and cabbage and bacon can be found on many tables throughout the year; however, certain traditional foods are often brought out as a way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, such as Boxty and coddle (two of the most popular). Children are often served mashed potatoes with coins wrapped up in tinfoil hidden in the potatoes!
  7. Doing Un-St. Patrick’s Day-Related Activities. Because St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday, there’s no pressure to do anything actually. Keith O’Hara says, “Many people, me included, tend to dodge the sizeable crowds that travel to Ireland in March. Personally, I’ll head to either the Wicklow or Dublin mountains or head off on one of the many-day trips from Dublin. If I am coaxed to head into the city, I’ll try and head to one of the pubs in Dublin with live music.”
  8. Patrick’s Day Masses. Many people attend masses on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. One thousand years ago, simple religious services were all that took place on March 17th when St. Patrick was held in great reverence. These days, St. Patrick’s Day prayers are very common and it’s a good way of perhaps avoiding all the pomp and finding the spiritual side of the country’s national day. In fact, you could even double up by attending mass in the morning and then joining the parade straight afterward!


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