Americans commercialize this holy day with green-tinted Guinness, “Kiss me I’m Irish” buttons and parades a-plenty. In Ireland, traditions abound without the corny (ehem -corned beef.) See how we celebrate differently, then discover ten reasons to go “green” right now.
St. Patrick’s Day is a holy in Ireland
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is first and foremost a feast and holy day – a Catholic holiday. Going to church is de rigueur, as are parades in the big cities – Dublin, Cork and Galway. The festivities usually last a week, not just on March 17th. This year, the capital will run a free program of street theater, fireworks, music and even a treasure hunt.
The American St. Paddy’s
St. Patrick’s Day traditions began in America under more serious circumstances. Parades were begun by Irish immigrants demanding equal rights. Today’s marchers, clad in Kelly, stomp and drum to a happier beat. For Irish-Americans, the holiday is more than honoring a saint – it confirms ethnic identity and creates a bond of solidarity with other Irish in the community.
After working up an appetite, Americans sit down with a plate of corned beef and cabbage. But in Ireland, you’re more likely to find pork or roast chicken at a family get-together. And not a pint of green beer in sight.
Who is St. Patrick, Anyway?
He wasn’t even Irish! Born in Britain around 390 A.D. to an aristocratic Christian family, he showed no interest in religion. At 16, Patrick was kidnapped and made a slave in the chilly mountains of Ireland for seven years. After the experience, he became a deeply Christian man. According to legend, a “voice” told him to escape. Patrick jumped on a pirate ship back to Britain where he was reunited with his family. But then, the “voice” told him to go back to Ireland.
This land of lush green and luck, so special and magical, so many reasons to go.
Here are the top 10 reasons to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.
10. Take the same journey of St. Patrick (albeit far more pleasant in 2012) on a ferry from Britain back to Ireland. Although it is uncertain where exactly in Britain St. Patrick was born, you can enjoy searching – by train, of course.
9. Overcome by ophidiophobia? Legend has it that St. Patrick drove all the snakes from Ireland. Sometime back in the fifth century he stood on a hill and used a staff to herd the slithering creatures into the sea. There must be something to this, as there are no snakes on the Emerald Isle.
8. In Dublin, take a visit to Trinity College. Founded in 1592, it’s a focal point for the Irish art scene – and home to the world-famous Book of Kells. This manuscript produced by Celtic Monks in 800 AD is a prime example of Insular Art. This style from Ireland and Britail was completely different than that of mainland Europe, and takes its name from the Latin insula – meaning “island.”
7. Also in Dublin, cross the Ha’ Penny Bridge to get from the Temple Bar area to Liffey Street. You can cross the bridge freely without having to worry about paying the half-penny toll that used to be collected. The Temple Bar might seem like a place to enjoy a pint, when in fact it’s “Dublin’s cultural quarter.” The area has a preserved its medieval street pattern, with narrow, cobblestone streets. Very (lucky) charming.
6. Ireland touts its stout. And for good reason. Have a pint and take a tour of the famed Guinness Brewery, but also stop into tiny, traditional, hole-in-the-wall pubs. Pull up a bar stool, make a new friend and hear stories that have been passed down from the ages.
5. Ireland has its share of renowned writers: Oscar Wilde, William Yeats, Jonathan Swift, Bernard Shaw to name a famed few. But none are more loved than native son James Joyce, who devoted his masterwork novel to the city he loved. The James Joyce Centre is a must visit, and dedicates itself to promoting an understanding of the life and works of the author.
4. Put a ring on it. Ireland’s Ring of Kerry is a magnificent scenic trail along the southwest coast. And while we always promote rail travel as the best way to get around, this can really best be seen by car.
3. Link your journey – by train and by birdies. Although with such tough conditions, you may be looking more at bogeys. Golf wasn’t born here, but the windswept courses are both challenging and beautiful. Set among castles-cum-hotels, and bordered by white-capped seas, Irish golf is “fore” duffers with mettle.
2. Don’t have a way with words? Come kiss the Blarney Stone. Those who plant a smooch on the stone are said to receive the gift of gab. The Blarney Castle is near the city of Cork, just two hours and 45 minutes from Dublin by train. A harder journey? Leaning out of the castle wall to get to the stone.
1. Go rainbow chasing. It’s the preferred mode of transport for leprechauns, but for you, the train will whisk you past towns filled with warm, welcoming people and maybe a field or two of shamrocks.
They don’t call it “luck o’ the Irish” for nothing. All who visit feel lucky – even blessed – to be there. And leave with a feeling of Erin go Bragh in their hearts forever. No wonder in America we all wear “Kiss me I’m Irish” buttons on St. Patrick’s Day.
We should all have the spirit of the Emerald Isle– if only for a day.
How to get to Ireland from England:
The BritRail Irish Sea Crossing provides your choice of three Ireland to England ferry routes. All three are approximately 2 hours and are economical. Choose the England-Ireland ferry departure location or vice versa and time that works best for you. Full schedule for the ferry is provided in the on the BritRail Irish Sea Crossing page's FAQ tab.