St Patrick’s Day must surely be one of the most celebrated patron saints’ days all around the world. But, make no mistake, it is, quite rightly, in Ireland where March 17th is truly the most important day of the year. Saint Paddy’s Day – the day of the wearing of the green and the shamrock – has been celebrated for over three hundred years, commemorating Ireland’s patron saint who, along with Saints Colomb and Bridget, is recognised as bringing Christianity to the island.
Although most people automatically will associate Ireland’s capital with the major St Patrick’s Day celebrations, in fact Dublin is only one of countless towns and cities where official events will be held so, before concentrating on Dublin, let’s look at some other well-known venues.
One of the most significant places to hold St Patrick’s Day events is the county town of Down, Downpatrick, about 20 miles south of Dublin. Although with only 10,000 inhabitants, many more than that number will head to the cathedral here, which is the site of the saint’s burial. After a thanksgiving service and wreath laying ceremony, a colourful carnival parade takes to the streets and there are concerts, ceilidhs, fun runs, cycle rides and cultural happenings taking place all day.
Other cities renown for their parades and parties are Limerick – where the International Band festival is often held in conjunction with the St Patrick’s Day activities, Galway, Waterford, Killarney, Kerry, Kilkenny, Derry, Sligo, Cork and even Belfast city.
It is, though, Dublin which has the highest profile when it comes to partying in Ireland and it’s no surprise to learn that nearly three quarters of a million people throng to the streets for the annual Paddy’s Day Parade, leaving Parnell Square at noon. The parade, which takes three hours to pass you, not only has Irish marching bands but it also has international bands, street performers, ceremonial groups and thousands of dancers in their own shamrock-inspired costumes.
This is more than just a parade, however. There are many other regular annual events that attract both locals and visitors in their thousands. For example, the ceilidh known as Céilí Mór turns Earlsfoot Terrace into an outdoor dance floor and there is a superbly organised city treasure hunt. The Big Day Out is a free event for families that has got music, clowns, street performers and just about everything else to keep the kids wondrously entertained.
For more adult tastes, the famous Laughter Lounge, Ireland’s foremost comedy club, always puts on special nights during the week.
The days leading up to the 17th march provide a feast of music, dance, film, comedy, exhibitions, and family fun – all culminating in a dazzling firework display over the city centre. If you’ve never experienced an Irish party, then this would be one sensational way to start.
Dublin has, in recent years, become much more of a tourist venue for people from Britain and Europe. Consequently, there are many hotels to cater for visitors. However, with so many people coming for St Patrick’s Day events, it is absolutely essential to reserve your accommodation as early as possible.
Ryanair will, of course, operate many additional flights in and out of Ireland at this time of the year and there is also the ferry to consider – boats sail from Holyhead, Liverpool and Douglas to the port of Dublin itself but there are also regular crossings to Rosslare, Belfast, Dun Laoghaire and Cork.
Once you’ve arrived in Dublin, special transport timetables are put into place to encourage everyone to ‘leave your cars at home’ to avoid congestion in the centre of the city, where many of the streets will be closed. Dublinbus, and the Dart and Luas train systems all operate special services.
So, if you’re up for ‘the craic’ and a few pints of the ‘black stuff’, then there are few better places to find both than at Irish St Patrick’s Day celebrations.