Paddy’s Day: Irish National Day
Street parades, top hats, parties, shamrock and an overflowing of the colour green and the Irish flag… these and more can be seen every year during St Patrick’s Day, officially known as Ireland’s National Day.
St Patrick’s Day (also known as Paddy’s Day or St Patrick’s Festival) is observed every year on the 17th of March, the saint’s day of death and official feast day.
St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland: Patrick was a priest who lived in the late 300 AD. As a bishop, Patrick Christianised Ireland and, according to folklore, he used the shamrock or three-leaved clover to teach the holy trinity to the natives. As the Catholic influence expanded over Ireland, worship for the saint grew until he became equated with Irish culture itself.
Today, Paddy’s Day is also the Irish’s National Day. In Ireland, it is considered a public holiday. It is also celebrated wherever Irish communities thrive: from the Caribbean in the west to Japan in the east. Paddy’s Day is even commemorated in space at the International Space Station by crew members of Irish descent!
Way before St Patrick was recognised as the patron of Ireland, his feast day had already been celebrated by Irish all around Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries.
As a festival that is rooted in religion, Paddy’s Day is commemorated traditionally by attending mass. Feasting, music and visiting pubs are also some traditional ways the day is celebrated. Potatoes, the Irish staple, are abundant during this day. So are bacon (boiled ham) and cabbage, Shepherd’s pie, black pudding, bangers and mash and plenty more.
The music tradition of the Irish goes back a long way in history, back to the Celtic roots of the region. Instruments that are often used are the bodhrán (frame drum), harmonica, fiddle, whistle and the uilleann pipes. The type of music played is commonly reels, jigs and polkas, which ares almost always accompanied by dancing. Irish dances are particularly unique on their own: there is the social dance céilí and other step dancing routines.
How it is celebrated now
Today, aside from the traditional forms of celebrating Paddy’s Day, revellers stage elaborate parades and wear costumes that are distinctly Irish.
Wearing wigs or getting face paints in the colour of the Irish flag are just some of the favourite things revellers do by way of costume. There’s also wearing green shirts, top hats or donning the full leprechaun regalia. Leprechauns are the fairies of mischief according to folklore and look like elves.
Myth says that capturing one will grant a person three wishes and that they store all their coins in a pot found at the end of rainbows. The popularity of the leprechaun mythology also makes Paddy’s Day a celebration of prosperity and luck.
After parties are also a staple during Paddy’s Day. Pub-hopping is common as pubs usually hold special celebrations. Some common drinks are Guinness dry stout, Bulmers Original Irish Cider, Smithwick’s Pale Ale, Jameson Irish whiskey or some Baileys Irish Cream.
This year’s festivities in Ireland’s capital of Dublin will be held from 14 to 17 March. Just some of the festival highlights include:
- Greening the City. Organisers have asked businesses and institutions to light up their buildings with green. Some of the participants include Trinity College Dublin, St Patrick’s Cathedral and The Mansion House (14–17 Mar).
- Festival Céilí. Ireland’s famous dancers and troupes will take people through the basics of popular Irish dances like ‘The Siege of Ennis’ and ‘The Walls of Limerick.’ Everyone will then dance in the outdoors to non-stop music (14 Mar).
- Irish Craft Beer and Food Market. Celebrate Paddy’s Day by tasting what Ireland has to offer by way of craft drinks and artisan food (14–17 Mar)
- The Gannon Cup. University College Dublin (UCD) and Dublin University (Trinity College) will slug it out at the river Liffey with a 2km rowing course through the city (16 Mar).
- St Patrick’s Festival Parade. This is the highlight of the festivities as floats, performers and musicians march through the city with colour and theatrics. Parade route can be found here (17 Mar).
Paddy’s Day in other Irish communities all over the world have their own line-up of events. What makes Paddy’s Day especially relevant today is that Irish diaspora has gone global, and their celebration of the festival has made it an opportunity for cultures to meet and together have fun.