There’s an old joke in Dublin that says the Irish only drink one day of the year: St Patrick’s Day. The rest of the year they spend ‘practicing’ for the big day.
Every March 17 the Irish capital city becomes a sea of green in celebration of the patron saint of Ireland. Dublin’s famous black brew – Guinness – fills glasses in pubs throughout the city and the day is spent listening to traditional music, attending a parade in the center of the city, and telling stories. Traveling to Dublin for the biggest holiday of the year offers a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in a tradition that reveals the warmth of the Irish.
The Big Day
Unlike some American destinations that celebrate St Patrick’s Day on the weekend closest to March 17, Dublin celebrates on the day itself. The main spectacle is a parade full of musicians, marching bands, floats and balloons that winds its way down the main thoroughfare of Dublin, O’Connell Street, and around the entrance to Trinity College. This area is the best place to pick a spot and watch the parade.
The creativity and good spirit of the Irish will be on display with the costumes of parade-goers. Roads are closed to traffic, and simply strolling through the pedestrianized streets checking out the creative costumes is a lot of fun. The parade is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, and this continues in the pubs following the parade as well.
The Perfect Pint of Guinness
Beyond the parade and listening to traditional music, the best way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day is with the perfect pint of Guinness. You won’t find any green beer here, just perfect pints of the black stuff. There are other Irish beers to try as well during your visit, but on St Patrick’s Day, all the locals will be drinking Guinness. Pubs in Ireland are like an extended living room, and therefore welcome families to their tables. Don’t be surprised to see multiple generations of families stomping their feet to the beat of the fiddle in the pub.
I experienced this family-friendly atmosphere in a pub during my first St Patrick’s Day in Dublin. A toddler, all decked out in green, was the star of the show as he danced to the music, entertaining the crowd. Visitors to a Dublin pub will find that conversations are easily struck up with the people at the next table. The Irish definitely have the gift of gab, and the day can easily disappear over stories told while enjoying a fresh round of pints.
However, not all pints in Dublin are created equal. Fierce debates can break out between locals over which pubs pour the best pints, and I have a few favorites of my own. O’Donoghue’s is known for its traditional music and they always serve a great pint. John Kehoe’s is another traditional option, and its multiple floors allow for plenty of seating for patrons. For a classier pint, head into the bar of the Shelbourne Hotel, where you can peer out the windows and watch the revelers stroll by along St Stephen’s Green.
St Patrick’s Festival
In recent years, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Dublin have extended beyond the 17th. In 2011, the St Patrick’s Festival will stretch from March 16th – 20th and feature comedy, music, children’s crafts, scavenger hunts, and more. This festival keeps the celebration going beyond the day itself, and is a perfect way for visitors to maximize their trip to the Irish capital.
From walking tours to music sessions, the festival is full of options for celebrating. Most events are free and open to the public, making them even more enticing if you’re trying to travel on a budget.
Dublin Up Close
The small city of Dublin can easily be explored on foot. Besides sampling the local brew and listening to music, there are several other ways to celebrate Irish culture during your visit. Two of my favorite exhibitions in Dublin are the W.B. Yeats exhibit at the National Library, and the Jack B. Yeats exhibit at the National Gallery.
Both of these attractions are free, and offer the chance to see the work of two extremely talented brothers. The poetry of W.B. Yeats can be explored by electronically flipping through the pages of his manuscripts. The bold, colorful paintings of Jack B. Yeats make up one of the most striking exhibitions of art in Ireland.
When you travel to Dublin for St Patrick’s Day, you will wind up discovering a city that is rich in culture and heritage, and knows how to throw a damn good celebration too.
Written by and photos by Jessica Colley for EuropeUpClose.com