The Real St. Patrick’s Day – Dublin, Ireland 2014
I went to Dublin, Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Best idea ever right?
Well that’s exactly what everyone else in the world thinks too, except maybe actual Irish people. Although it is a traditional Irish holiday, most of the big festivities in Dublin city are put on by the locals and catered to foreigners.
Each year, people from all over the world flood Ireland’s capital during the weekend nearest March 17. The city erupts with green hats and scarves, shamrocks, face paint, and leprechaun costumes. For one weekend out of the year, people of all nationalities pretend to be Irish. Their transformation is fueled by gift stores, souvenir stands, shopping malls, and of course, pubs. All hotel rooms in the city are booked, streets overflow with crowds, green paraphernalia fly off store shelves, and every bar in the City Centre is packed wall to wall with bodies.
What do Dubliners think of the annual foreign invasion? Many of them do come out to celebrate, or simply to witness the absurdity. They are generally easy to pick out from the crowds, set apart not by their ridiculous attire, but by their lack thereof—and of course, red hair and green eyes help to look for as well. In the five days I spent there, I met quite a few locals and got the chance to hear their opinions.
Most Dublin residents enjoy the attention that their city and culture get every March. No other country can claim a holiday that makes people of every nation happy to fly the same flag for a day. The Irish are rightly proud of this.
Dubliners have choice of all manner of festivities during the weekend, whether watching the parade, attending performances, playing at the carnival, running the 5k race, drinking at the pubs, or locking themselves inside all weekend to escape the madness. While tourists are going nuts trying to cram all of Ireland into one weekend, most Irish calmly treat it as any other national holiday—an excuse to have a pint on a Sunday night and sleep in late.
St. Patrick’s Day originated in Irish Catholic tradition. It was to commemorate the arrival of Christianity to Ireland and the patron saint who helped bring it there—Saint Patrick, who died on March 17 in the year 461. In the early 17th century, the church made the date an official feast day, and although it falls during the time of Lent, rules of fasting and abstaining from alcohol were allowed to be lifted for this one day. So began the tradition of drunken revelry on St. Patty’s Day.
The obligatory wearing of green and sporting of shamrocks are also rooted in the legacy of St. Patrick, who allegedly used the three leaves as a religious analogy for the Holy Trinity. Other trademarks of the holiday, such as leprechauns, Irish flags, and Guinness have been assimilated over the years not because of religious significance, but because of their affiliation with Irish culture in general.
Today, although St. Patrick’s Day is an official pubic holiday in few places outside Ireland, it has become internationally popular. The modern version of the celebration owes its widespread recognition to Irish diaspora in the United States and elsewhere. By the year 1800, St. Patrick’s Day in the United States was already well established, especially among Irish-born immigrants and their families. In fact, some of the most quintessential holiday traditions have developed in the United States rather than in Ireland.
Parades are a staple of St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but the first were held in the United States, not the home country. Boston has the longest-running tradition of a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where it has been held since 1737. In fact, the green-clad procession was nowhere to be found in Ireland until the mid-20th century, when it caught on in Dublin. Now St. Patrick’s Day parades are nearly ubiquitous in Ireland, but some small towns have only hopped on the bandwagon in the past few decades.
St. Patrick’s Day is grounded deep in Irish history, but the modern celebration is the product of centuries of evolution, both on and away from the Emerald Isle. The far-flung descendents of Irish immigrants have propagated their traditions to become a holiday that is uniquely Irish, yet popular the world over.
This international popularity makes Dublin a top travel destination every March, and I jumped right into the middle of it. I explored the city, toured the Guinness Storehouse, had a pint or two in the pubs, enjoyed live Irish music, and entered the St. Patrick’s Day 5k (winning best in my class—definitely ran faster than anyone else wearing a green tutu). I got the chance to meet up with Knoxville friends who are studying abroad, meet some new friends, and wear green with people from all over the world.
I feel like I got a pretty full Patty’s Day experience, but I wish I had more time in Ireland. I made only one trip to see the countryside, but at least Galway Tours does a great job of squeezing in a lot of sites and info. I hope to make it back to see more of the island someday, but maybe I will work around St. Patrick’s Day to avoid the huge crowds and expensive accommodations.
Ultimately, I definitely recommend spending at least one Patty’s Day in Dublin. Put yourself in the center, as the world’s holiday energy converges on this one city. It is sure to be a weekend you will never forget. Or maybe never remember.
Check out the gallery for photos from Ireland and St. Patty’s Day