Although it was a month ago, I definitely want to make sure that I talk about St. Patrick’s Day since it was definitely one of the highlights of my time here in Ireland so far. Also, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is probably on the bucket list of most people with any sort of Irish heritage. I have exactly 0% Irish heritage, but I still count myself as one of lucky that can now say I have celebrated the holiday on the Emerald Isle.
Ireland spares no expense on the whole celebration. I mean, it does make sense. It’s their biggest time for tourism, and thousands upon thousands of visitors pour in every year to be a part of it. There were myriad events offered for locals and tourists that were geared towards celebrating Irish language and heritage. Irish dancing lessons, funfairs, vocal performances, children’s workshops, a beer and whiskey festival, the parade, Gaelic games, a 5K run and more were part of the festivities. And of course, the pubs are always electric leading up to the St. Patrick’s Day.
I spoke to a few of my internship co-workers the week before St. Patrick’s Day, and asked about how the locals celebrated. They said that a lot of the young people go to the pubs and celebrate, parents bring their children to the parade and games, but other than that, many Irish people just stay at home and enjoy a day off work. It’s hard not to blame them. Their city is filled with tourists, and the streets were crowded.
However, as a tourist myself, it was a great experience to be a part of. Sure, we knew going into it that it was a very stereotypical tourist thing to do, but I still really enjoyed myself. Sometimes you have to shrug off your ego and the sting of being “just a tourist” and go have fun. So, that’s what I did.
On Monday night, I went with a friend to the Festival Céilí in St. Stephen’s Green. It was a celebration of traditional Irish dancing, and included musicians playing live traditional music and learning some steps. The Matt Cunningham band performed while well-known ceilí caller Jerry O’Reilly led us through some of the more famous classics such as “Shoe the Donkey” and “The Walls of Limerick.” Brooks Academy dancers demonstrated for us as well. There were also special guests that played: Ciarán Ó Maoinigh on fiddle and Caitlín Nic Gabhann on concertina were amazingly talented as well. Caitlín was not only great at playing her concertina; she also broke it down on the dance floor, which was super impressive. They were also joined by Irish champion dancer Dearbhla Lennon, who both danced and presented the event.
I joined hundreds of other participants, from all around the world in enjoying the music and trying to hold my own with the dancing. I was a pretty sad sight to see and was absolutely terrible. It was a lot of fun, and it felt great to celebrate a great piece of Irish culture, even being someone from thousands of miles away. The locals there were very welcoming as well, and I was taken under the wing of an older couple from Dublin who were great at the dancing and helped me to get the hang of at least a few steps. The part I’ll always remember though is the “competition” that put five international volunteers up on stage, including a French man, an American, Brazilian girls, and a hilarious Mexican woman named Coca. They were put to the task of repeating an Irish tongue twister involving something about rabbits in winter. The Irish language is not exactly easy to pick up, and their attempts were hilarious (not that I could have done much better).
Tuesday was the big day. We put on our green and joined the thousands of other felt-hat-topped, shamrock-cheeked and Irish-flag wearing superheroes to O’Connell Street to watch the parade. An estimate of about 50,000 people attended the parade that lined block and blocks of Dublin. We overheard languages from all around the world, and at this point, it was really evident just how many people traveled there from other countries. It did surprise me though how many American elements were incorporated into the parade. About every other performer in the parade was an American marching band, playing American songs, which was definitely … unexpected. “Celebration,” “Sweet Caroline” and “Happy” were staples.
After the parade, we walked to Croke Park (a huge stadium) to watch a hurling match and a Gaelic football game. This was probably my favorite part of the day, and I learned that I really love watching hurling, which is a sport played with a baseball-sized ball, and that is hit with a stick that is shaped similarly to a lacrosse net into a net or through a goalpost above it. If you haven’t heard of it, I would recommend trying to watch some games online! The Irish spirit was great at the games, and we got to hear the Irish national anthem sung as well.
Although we maybe played our tourist roles a little too well over that weekend, it was still great to experience a variety of parts of the Irish culture. It was definitely a St. Patrick’s Day I’ll never forget, and I don’t even care how clichéd that sounds.