Those who know me well are aware of my love towards Ireland and its culture. To this day, I have visited the emerald isle eight times and I certainly intend to continue doing so; life has never been easy for the Irish but there is one day a year when everyone forgets any kind of trouble and that would be March 17th, better known as St. Patrick’s Day. I often got asked what it’s like to experience this day in Ireland and since I would be able to talk about it for hours, I thought you might find it more useful if I wrote a piece on it. Get your pints ready because there is much to be told and nobody likes some good storytelling like a true Irish.
ST. PATRICK’S WHAT?
Let’s start right from the basics: St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. I know, it’s a pretty big deal right? Basically, he is responsible for Ireland’s early Christian conversion in the 5th century which changed Irish history and culture drastically. Just imagine a bearded fella roaming around a breathtakingly beautiful isle explaining to common people why God exists, using a shamrock as a metaphor for Trinity and fighting with the devil in person for 40 days on top of freezing cold mountain in County Mayo. Not only he made the devil go home with his tail between his legs, but he also bothered to pack all the snakes in Ireland and ship them away to hell. If this isn’t cool enough for you, you should know St. Patrick had a personal brewmaster following him around during his adventures and providing drinks at all times. Now, this is what I call a true leader for the peoples.
Some of you might ask themselves why a religious feast has become associated with excessive drinking and that is a legitimate question. St. Patrick might have been a party chap but it’s hard to believe he would encourage people to drink their faces off. The real reason why everyone drinks a lot on St Patrick’s Day it’s that this feast falls right in the middle of Lent (the period of restriction for the Christians right before Easter) meaning that for one day only it is allowed to go crazy and consume whatever you want, how much you want without feeling guilty towards God and his judgemental frown. The Irish have been observing this feast for more than 1.000 years by attending church in the morning and drinking and dancing in the afternoon, however, this day was made big by the emigrants in the US where the first parade was held in New York in 1762.
PLAN YOUR TRAP…EHM, TRIP
If you wish to visit Ireland for its most iconic event, either you already have a place to stay (family, relatives etc.) or you better book your trip quite in advance. And by advance, I mean many months before. I have been in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day twice and while the first time I didn’t have to take care of the planning, the second time I was there with my band and I was in charge of the whole itinerary. Dublin is crazy-expensive throughout the whole year, the lowest prices you can get are in January/February but as soon as March arrives you better watch your budget well or you’ll come home with a few cents in your pockets.
Ireland’s capital city is very small, you can easily get around on foot with no need to take a bus or a tram. Many are the hidden gems in the city centre and when you won’t be busy drinking there is much you can do. I’m not telling you what though because this is not a city guide and there is enough tourism personnel whose job is to help you, so let them earn a livelihood. I don’t work for TripAdvisor either so I will not suggest places to stay or places to eat, have fun hunting them down, just keep in mind you will end up spending a fortune regardless how many days your stay will last and since every single place is incredibly expensive anyway, consider booking somewhere in Dublin 1 or Dublin 2 so you can crawl to bed on your own without having to take a taxi. A large part of your budget should be (and will inevitably be) invested in beer and food. Food is not cheap but given the quality and size of the portions they serve in most places, I would say it’s fair. On the other hand, “fair” is a word that doesn’t belong with drinks; in fact, many touristy pubs charge their drinks depending on the time of the day and a pint will cost you no less than 6,50€. Wanna sample one of their famous Irish whiskies? Start finding a good paper box to sleep in and get in line for a homeless badge because two fingers of the cheapest whisky cost around 8€. If you’re not scared enough by now, either you don’t drink or you’re so rich to not give a damn about your credit card. And I fully respect you for that.
THE BIG DAY’S PROCEDURE
So let’s say you scoffed at money and embarked on this dangerous trip, you safely landed in Dublin city and St. Patrick’s Day has finally arrived. What now? Hold your leprechauns, we’re getting there.
Dress for success
First things first. If you think you can get out dressed like a normal person you must be insane for real. St. Patrick’s Day clearly means “green” and you will not look alternative or cool if you don’t wear green, just really antisocial and stupid. Let yourself go for once in your square life and bathe in green glitters; it’s a masquerade, not a business meeting. If you don’t own anything worth wearing for the occasion you will be able to find everything you need in just about every single shop on the street.
Fire it up
Start your day the right way. Don’t be a jerk and skip breakfast because you will regret it for the rest of your day. First of all, the traditional Full Irish breakfast is great, very similar to the English breakfast but with a couple of precious additions like black & white pudding; pair it with a tongue-burning cup of tea and you will have enough energy for the next 16 hours. This step is crucial for many reasons, but mainly because you will need a good base to lay your booze on and because it will be very difficult to spot an empty table in any restaurant of the city during the entire day.
Welcome To The Green Parade
Every town in Ireland now hosts a parade for St. Patrick’s Day, but the one in Dublin is simply spectacular. Usually heading from Parnell Square to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the parade starts at 12 pm, which will give you enough time to choose the perfect spot to watch it. There is not much to spoil as there is a different theme each year, but being in the city and willingly choose not to watch it is simply criminal.
Party Ain’t Over ‘Till I Say So
When the parade is over it doesn’t mean celebrations are too. For those who don’t lock themselves in a pub straight away, there are many attractions around that might catch your eye. From circus and theatre to dance shows, there is a lot of entertainment going on, a big part of which is in Merrion Square where the Festival Village takes place. Take a look at your watch during the late afternoon because this is the time when “Greening the city” happens, every important building is lit up with green and you will have the impression that a huge wave of absinth has just flooded the city.
Pubs & Hubs
But let’s move on to the great matters and let’s be honest: if you don’t like drinking this is not the day for you. On the other hand, if you like your booze, you definitely have come to the right place. However, if it normally gets time to get a drink in an Irish pub, on this day it will be harder than being at Macy’s on a Black Friday. There will be people everywhere, people will throw objects of any kind up in the air and for the first three or four pints, nobody is your friend. If you manage to get into a pub try to go straight to your goal, queues do not exist on St. Patrick’s Day and everyone wants exactly what you want. Of course, it gets easier if you choose to drink in a less touristy pub, but be ready not to find an empty stool anywhere. Wear comfortable shoes and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Something solid, please
When you reach the point where you completely lost count of how many pints you’ve necked, the clock strikes way after midnight and no pumpkin carriage is waiting for you, it’s time you give your body a hand and find someplace to eat something before dropping dead on the bed and postpone the romantic date with your hangover. Apart from the countless fast foods that stay open 24/7, there are some special locations the Irish like to visit when night hunger knocks on the door: chippers. I discovered the existence of these little food shops thanks to a local friend and I can guarantee it’s a real game changer. What can you find in a chipper? The answer is simple: fried everything. Fish & chips, sausages, burgers; I’m pretty sure if it was possible to fry air they would wrap it and sell it. Just the perfect solution to grease up your stomach and call it a night.
GREEN WITH ENVY? GET CREATIVE!
St. Patrick’s Day has become so international that its celebrations are now extended to every major city in the world and now famous sites like the Colosseum and the Eiffel tower take part to the greening tradition. Parades are held in many US cities, most likely in the East coast where many Irish settled back then. The depth this event is felt with though, can only be felt in Ireland and I must admit I usually have a hard time celebrating it when I stay home. You can get more lucky if the feast falls on a weekend; you can gather your friends together and have a party with traditional Irish food, but I must admit it can’t be the same. If it falls during the week it’s even more depressing because no one will go out on purpose to get wasted. However, there are many ways to get creative, like watching the live streaming of the Dublin parade during your lunch break, listening to some good traditional tunes and hitting a pub for a pint of Guinness after work. Whatever you will do for St. Patrick’s day this year, just make sure to have a memorable one and maybe ask for a day off on the 18th. You know, just in case.