Dublin jives to a Celtic beat as Ireland’s national holiday celebrations take place this month. Since the first St Patrick’s Day parade in 1931, St Patrick’s Festival has grown into a mega-celebration of Irish craic (or fun). Today, visitors from all over the world travel to Ireland’s capital to participate in good old-fashioned Irish revelry at the best St Patrick’s Day parade in the world.
Spectators pack O’Connell Street hours before the start of the St Patrick’s Day parade to position themselves for the best vantage point from which to view the procession from.
Onlookers cram into balconies, scramble up step-ladders and climb telephone boxes to get a look at the colourful parade.
Green balloons bob above the ocean of heads, and enthusiastic chatter adds to the hum of excitement.
Roaming television crews scour the sea of green hats, scarves and jumpers, picking out members of the crowd who obligingly wave and greet the nation on television.
Each year, the St Patrick’s Festival Parade winds its way along Dublin’s O’Connell Street and through the city centre.
Streets are closed to traffic and the city centre becomes a playground as revellers enjoy the many free events.
St Patrick’s Day parade
More than one and a half million people, many of them visitors, join the locals to experience Festival fever every year. You might not see any leprechauns, but you are guaranteed a week you’ll never forget.
As one of the world’s premier marching events, the St Patrick’s Day parade attracts traditional marching bands from all over the world that travel to Dublin to participate in this event.
Over the years, the parade itself has developed to include colourful displays of Irish creativity where these days almost anything goes.
Waifs in flowing metallic gowns and painted faces flit among the floats, fairies dance beside colourful giant farm animals and teams of multi-coloured jesters bop around in excitement.
Wide smiles, rousing music and marching are the order of the day. Adding to the pageantry is the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who rides along the parade circuit in an ornate 1791-heritage gold-trimmed coach drawn by six horses.
The opening night at Smithfield Square is usually a gala spectacular.
Even if you’re unable to catch the opening night or the parade, this is still the most fun time to visit Dublin as throughout the five days the streets are alive with dancers, comedians, acrobats and street theatre.
St Patrick – The Legend
As a young boy, Ireland’s patron saint – St Patrick – was kidnapped from Britain during a raid by the Irish King Niall and sold into slavery.
Nobody knows where he really came from although Patrick’s writings refer to his family village – which does not exist in any map of Roman Britain – of Bannavern Taberniae.
After six years of captivity he escaped and made his way back to Britain and was so inspired by the experience that he later returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary.
In a land ruled by five powerful provincial kings, warring Celts, tribal groups, dominated by eerie dolmen monuments and ancient ruins, St. Patrick’s success as a Christian missionary is recognised as being nothing short of extraordinary. Due to his efforts, by the end of the 5th century Ireland had become a Christian nation.
Numerous Irish legends and folklore surround St. Patrick, including the belief that he raised people from the dead and cured the blind.
He is also said to have delivered a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland away.
As snakes were never native to Ireland, some believe this to be a metaphor symbolising the conversion of the pagans.
According to legend, St Patrick took the “cold stone” out of the water on March 17, in other words it is the day on which winter would end and the sowing of crops could begin.
One traditional icon of St Patrick’s Day is the shamrock. St Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock in his sermons to explain the Holy Trinity – and how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity – to pagan King Laoghaire.
Drowning the Shamrock
Throughout the Georgian era, O’Connell Street was considered the fashionable part of town.
Today, a stroll down O’Connell Street reveals early 19th century buildings of historical importance like the General Post Office (1818), Gresham Hotel (1817), Clery’s department store (1822) and the Royal Dublin Hotel which is located in Dublin’s oldest Georgian House dating back to 1752.
There are monuments and statues dedicated to historical figures such as politician Daniel O’Connell, leader of the 1913 Dublin strike James Larkin and founder of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Movement Father Theobald Matthew.
Ironically, abstinence from alcohol is no longer an activity that should be included in any visit to Dublin. Quite the opposite prevails.
According to Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses, “A good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub”.
Today, while Dublin’s drinking establishments range from hip bars to traditional pubs, a Dublin pub crawl is still one of the best ways to take a crash course in Irish literature, history and architecture.
Dublin’s pubs were once haunts of literary figures, politicians and rock stars are full of atmosphere and history.
Pub-crawlers follow in the footsteps of literary greats like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift and Samuel Beckett.
So put on your walking shoes, join in the craic and head for the streets and pubs of Dublin.
Beannachtai na feile padraig or Happy St Patrick’s Day.
There are thousands of pubs in Dublin. Doheny & Nesbitt and the Horseshoe Bar attract politicians, journalists and lawyers while Neary’s is frequented by a theatrical crowd.
Davy Byrne’s was featured in James Joyce’s Ulysses. James Joyce was a regular at Mulligan’s, a pub that claims to have the best Guinness.
The popular Dublin Literary Pub Crawl starts at The Duke. The Dean is a hip new hotel in Dublin.
For more things to do in Ireland visit Northern Ireland. While in the region, here are some other things to do and places to visit.