When it comes to having a rollicking good time on St. Patrick’s Day, it used to be that Dublin was NOT the best place to be. If it was parades, and noise and big marching bands you wanted, you’d do better to head over to Boston or anyplace with a lot of people claiming Irish descent, where folks who’d never set foot in the Old Country did their merry best to celebrate all things Irish.
In the Emerald Isle, meanwhile, the selfsame Irish whose holiday had been hijacked would scratch their heads and wonder about these crazy foreigners making such a big to-do about what, for them, is a solemn religious observance. Not a few would mutter about these crazy yanks or what-have-you’s. Even more would ask why they couldn’t have their own smash-up too.
A Jazzier St Patrick’s Day for Ireland
And so, in the best tradition of “if you can’t beat them, join them“, in 1995 Dublin staged its own St Patrick’s festivities, on a scale previously never seen in Ireland. Other cities around Ireland quickly followed suit and nowadays, Ireland has wholeheartedly adopted the St Patricks Day celebrations concept. In fact, not only have they taken up the concept, they’ve even run away with it.
In Dublin, the St Patrick’s Day event has been turned into a St Patrick’s Day Festival, a five day street party extravaganza enthusiastically celebrated by both locals and international visitors. Some 500,000 people come just for the parade and in recent years, the numbers have crossed the million mark.
There’s the usual string of floats bedecked with flowers and famous people waving to the crowds, splendid formations of marching bands that would make a general proud and a host of other performers to round out the whole spectacle. One year there was a group of Canadian Mounties riding solemnly down the route; another year a team of samba dancers came all the way from Brazil — and you know you’re at a St Patrick’s Day Parade when the samba dancers have green four leaf clovers painted on their skins!
Enjoying the day, rain and all
Still, life being what it is, things are rarely simple and easy in Ireland, even on St Patrick’s Day. After all, it is the middle of March, and life on the other side of the Atlantic wouldn’t be complete without the blustering winds, cool temperatures and rain that make the island so famously green.
Getting soaked is practically a tradition on St Patrick’s Day in Dublin, and the rare appearance of sun during the parade can cause bemusement among spectators expecting the usual shower. Still, when you’re in a crowd half a million strong and straining to see a float, not getting rained on as well is reason enough to celebrate.
If you’d rather not fight the crowds on the sidewalk, the second best place to see the parade is in your friendly neighbourhood pub where much thanks is given to the new spirit of celebration. After all, there’s much to be thankful for – in days not long past, Good Friday and St Patrick’s Day were the only two days of the year when you couldn’t get a drink in an Irish pub! It used to be that the pubs would close, everyone would go to church for Mass and then spend the day with their family, having a good meal of cabbage, roast beef and potatoes. Today, not getting a drink on St Patrick’s Day would be a travesty for any bar, though one good thing about Irish bars is that they’ve so far resisted the American-born urge to serve green-dyed beer.
No leprechauns or pinching please!
In fact, there’s quite a few things different about a true blue Irish St Patrick’s Day Parade, which might come as a shock to spectators more used to the American parades: there are no dancing leprechauns, colourful rainbows and pots of gold in the Irish parades, since no self-respecting Irish thinks too highly of such stereotypically ‘oirish icons’.
There’s also far less green worn about in Ireland, and a lot more simple shamrock (clover) pins and the like. The phrase ‘wearing the green’ used to refer to pinning a shamrock to your clothes as protection against malevolent spirits, but sometime during the outpouring of immigrations from the Emerald Isle to the New World, the tradition shifted to mean wearing the colour green on St Patrick’s Day — and woe betide the sorry soul who didn’t, for another tradition born in the States was that if you didn’t wear green on that day, you’d get pinched by all and sundry!
Today, St Patrick’s and all things Irish are associated with the colour green – which is particularly ironic because St Patrick’s colour is traditionally blue! Despite the incorrect foundations of the tradition, the sellers peddling green shirts, hats and scarves do a roaring trade during the St Patrick’s Festival, as do the pubs, concert halls, hotels and most other businesses.
Still, despite the energy they put into staging the event nowadays, even the Irish don’t really know what all the fuss is about. In a country that’s still strongly Roman Catholic, it’s a bit odd to celebrate one saint’s day so extravagantly, even if he is the patron saint of the country, and especially since there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly religious about floats and marching bands. Still, why let an excuse to have a good time get away? It’s a good time to booze, get dressed up, enjoy the carnival atmosphere and take in all the entertainments. And after all the parades, concerts, fireworks and other festivities, there’s no better way of to celebrate being Irish then to head for the noise, laughter and watering opportunities of the nearest friendly bar.
“Regarding a competition your website is running where all the questions are relating to Galway and St Patrick’s Day. A question was asked ‘when the first parade was staged in Dublin’. You have given the correct answer as 1995, however, I wish to question this.
I was born in Dublin in 1963, can remember been taken to watch the parade and actually walked in the parade a number of times with the Girl Guides. The year of 1995 was when St Patricks Day was celebrated over a longer period but there has been a parade in Dublin city prior to this year.”
“There have indeed been parades in Dublin prior to 1995. The significance of that year is that it was the first time the Irish government decided to use the parade as a major tourism draw, in much the same fashion as the parades held in major American cities. 1995 is thus the year commonly cited as the beginning of the occasion’s transformation from a traditional religious holiday into a more secular, week-long festival.”