Is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated in Ireland just like it is in the United States? The answer to this oft-asked question is a confusing “yes’ and “no”. The day is celebrated in Ireland, but with greater emphasis on family than in America.
Questions abound on topics such as parades, celebratory food, green beer and shamrocks. I hope this post will help answer these many queries.
1. National Holiday:
First of all St. Patrick’s Day is a national bank holiday in Ireland. No school for Irish kids, so every one celebrates. The day is a family holiday and not so much an excuse to “drown the shamrock” so to speak, but I believe this is changing a little since I left Ireland over twenty years ago.
2. Holy Day:
When I was a little girl St. Patrick’s Day was very much a holy day, and my family attended Mass together. Kids wore decorative badges on their coat lapels made with green, white and orange ribbons. The grown-ups pinned a little bouquet of shamrock to their coats to symbolize their reverence for our patron saint.
I always enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day hymns. We sang the songs we learned at school, some in Irish and some in English. Mass usually ended with the whole church singing Hail Glorious Saint Patrick. I still remember the words like it was yesterday….
“Hail glorious St. Patrick, dear saint of our isle,
On us thy poor children bestow a sweet smile;
And now thou art high in the mansions above,
On Erin’s green valleys look down in thy love.”
3. A Feast Day:
St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is a feast day in every sense of the word. As children, if we had given up our favorite food for Lent, we willingly accepted our dispensation to indulge in sweets and candies to our heart’s content. We knew St. Patrick approved.
Family get-togethers are very important on this special day. Many families gather for a special meal. But rest assured there is no corned beef and cabbage on the menu. The Irish equivalent is bacon and cabbage, but this is seldom served on a feast day, since it is viewed as an everyday, workday meal.
Instead my family celebrates with a lovely ham, or a roast chicken or roast pork. Sometimes we serve roast lamb, but if St. Patrick’s Day falls close to Easter, like it does this year, my mom saves the lamb for Easter instead.
And since St. Patrick’s Day is always bang smack in the middle of Lent and sometimes falls on Friday, we don’t feel obligated to serve fish. Once again we willingly accept our dispensation from the bishop, cardinal or St. Patrick himself.
When I was a little girl in Ireland parades were organized in the large cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, but I know this has changed in the past twenty years. Many small Irish towns organize celebratory parades with farmers pulling decorative floats behind their tractors.
You may be surprised to learn that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was organized in New York, not Ireland, when Irish soldiers serving in the British military marched through the city to celebrate in 1762.
5. Drowning The Proverbial Shamrock:
St. Patrick’s Day in America is viewed by many as a great day to party, to have a drink, or two, or three, or four, or more. Drinking is seen as a way to celebrate being Irish. And everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
I lived in Hoboken, New Jersey for over three years in the early 1990’s. I celebrated St. Paddy’s Day three times in New York. To tell you the truth I never before saw such shenanigans in all my born days.
The Irish shenanigans I remember were far tamer than their American counterpart. I’m not sure if this has changed in the twenty or more years since I left Ireland. Irish readers, please feel free to leave a comment and let us know how crazy modern day celebrations get in Ireland.
And as far as I know green beer is only found in America, but please feel free to correct me, if Irish men and women are now coloring their beer green.
6. It’s St. Paddy Not St. Patty:
Referring to this day as St. Patty’s Day is not advisable in Ireland. He is St. Patrick or St. Paddy, but never St. Patty.
Paddy’s Day is fine! You’ll even get away with St. Pat’s Day, but never St. Patty’s Day. Patty is short for Patricia, and not a soul in Ireland would ever refer to our good man as Patty.
7. No Four Leaf Clovers:
In Ireland a shamrock with three leaves only is used to represent the day. I think four leaf clovers developed in Irish American folklore, as people confused lucky four leaf clovers with “the luck of the Irish”, eventually merging the two ideas.
And there you have it, a quick trip down memory lane to compare St. Paddy’s Day celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic.
And so, whether you go crazy and join in all the shenanigans, or prefer to mark the day as a family event, I wish you all a very happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig
(St. Patrick’s Day Blessings)
Irish American Mom