With a large Irish diaspora scattered throughout the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain, tens of millions of people of Irish descent celebrate St. Patrick’s Day each year on the 17th March with colourful parades, fun costumes, Irish music, and wearing green colours to mark the occasion.
St. Patrick’s Day is as national holiday in Ireland and this blog will reveal a few insights as to how we usually celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with family on the Atlantic coast of Donegal, Ireland.
As the 17th March is St. Patrick’s feast day, many people attend morning mass in their local church. Our Catholic church has a beautiful choir and one of my favourite hymns is ‘Hail Glorious St. Patrick’. My Tipperary granny loved the Irish tenor Frank Patterson’s version of this hymn which is available to listen to on YouTube. Every time I hear this song it evokes special memories from a more traditional Ireland. Some still wear a bunch of Shamrock on their lapel going to Mass on St. Patrick’s Day. After service, people stand at the entrance to meet and greet old friends and acquaintances or to welcome anyone home on holidays.
After lunch we attend the festival parade in our local town which is Donegal. It is truly a community gathering, from the very young to the old. The parade usually includes a few community floats based, often with a comical parody of a topical theme. There are often marching school kids, a fire engine, new tractors, and costumed entertainers handing out candy and taking selfies with young families. One of my favourite parts is to hear the traditional marching pipe bands approaching in the parade before marching by in their traditional kilts and hats.
If the weather is nice on St. Patrick’s Day we might go for a short beach walk before returning home with the kids to my parents house for a traditional dinner of cabbage, bacon and mashed potato with real Irish butter. In times past, our Donegal granda always loved to stop in the local village pub for a few drinks on the way home. He might have a few bottles of Guinness and a few Irish whiskey’s up at the counter where he loved to chat with the bar owner and locals. Being a witty yarn teller of funny true stories, he was very popular. While holding court, he would buy us some crisps and a fizzy soft drink to keep us happy! With no mobile phones or large screen TVs I can remember being amazed at the frenetic volume of so many people in one small pub, chatting, laughing and joking with one another through a haze of tobacco smoke.
Darby O’Gill seemed to be screened on the TV each year every St. Patrick’s Day in the 80’s when I was growing up and both young and old loved watching it, again and again. Sean Connery aka James Bond, looked very young in the movie. In more modern times one of our favourite family rituals is to watch the national TV news on RTE at 6pm. After the main news of the day they always show an extended special review of dozens of parades around Ireland and abroad. It’s great to see the variety of parades covered from a small village parade in rural Roscommon with less than a hundred people in attendance, to the huge parades in New York and Chicago where the river is dyed an emerald green colour. The biggest national St. Patrick’s Day parade is held in Dublin which is a spectacularly colourful carnival-style parade reguarly attended by half a million people.
Wherever you plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year may it be a day full of good fun!