Food & Drink

What St. Patrick's Day Is Actually Like in Ireland, According to Irish People

Published On 03/17/2015 Published On 03/17/2015

Over here, St. Paddy's Day means green rivers, leprechaun hats, and gratuitous pints of Guinness at your closest "pub." But what does America's #1 drinking holiday actually look like in its native land? We reached out to a few Irish expats (Robert Mulhall and Daniel McLean of Irish Network NYC and Maurice Barron of the Manhattan Gaels) for some insight into the St. Patrick's Day festivities in Ireland. While there are certainly parties all over the country, you won't have nearly as many run-ins with the Glitterati in Eire.

All the towns have parades

Robert Mulhall: What was happening in my hometown was a small little parade. Every little group or organization in the community would come out. The local karate school would have people walking and doing some sort of demonstration. There’d also be some Irish dancers. The ballet class would come out, and they’d have all the little 4- or 5-year-old girls running around doing their thing. And then there would just be the local politicians. In my hometown there was a reserve army unit that would walk as well. That would generally go down the main street in your town, however big or small that was, and there’d be people lined up on the streets. It was very much a family day and it would start pretty early. Then you'd end up by the seafront, where a band would be playing.

Maurice Barron: The highlight was usually the local defense forces, who would have a really old tank or something like that. There would be some animals, a lot of local politicians with sashes, and lots and lots of Irish dancers dancing on some really dodgy floats.

And there's actually a religious element

Daniel McLean: We'd usually go to Mass in the morning, and then there'd be some sort of family meal. Like you have with Thanksgiving here, we have certain things we’d eat. Corned beef or ham or something like that. Pork and cabbage and potatoes. You’re also in the middle of Lent around St. Patrick’s Day. My parents always gave us the day off. So if you had given up fizzy drinks or sweets or whatever, you could have some of those.

Barron: You usually went to Mass, and it was the one day during Lent when you would be allowed some sweets or crisps.

But that's changing

Mulhall: The religious aspect is definitely something the older generation still hangs onto and is connected with. There’s a much smaller percentage of the younger generation keeping that alive.

Barron: Now it's a lot more commercial, and a way for Ireland to attract lots of tourists for a week of festivals.

McLean: Certainly in the big cities like Dublin [it's commercial]. But even at the local level, there's an element of advertising.

The blowout's not all bad, though

Mulhall: I actually love the big St. Patrick’s Day parade. It’s a good show. Yes, I agree, it’s more commercial, and some of what we call “paddywhackery” -- the leprechaun stuff and bad stereotypes about being Irish -- is being exaggerated on the day because everybody just treats it that way. But I think [Americans] would be really impressed by the diversity and the people who come out and celebrate us. I haven’t been there for St. Patrick’s Day for a couple years, but the last time I was there, I got caught up with probably 200 Brazilians doing some sort of drumming in the middle of the street. So people kind of take their own flavor to it as well.
 

And of course, there's drinking

McLean: It’s a national holiday, so everyone has the day off work. When you're an adult, it turns into a pub crawl with your friends.

Barron: Even as a kid, it was one of those rare days -- for me, anyway -- where you would see the inside of a pub with your parents for a few hours. You were usually given a bottle of orange and some Tayto crisps and told to go play out the back with your friends while your parents had a few drinks. This bit was always great fun, because they would give you anything you wanted so you would leave them alone.

Kristin Hunt is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and attended her family's St. Patrick's Day party this past weekend. There was a lot of paddywhackery. Follow her at @kristin_hunt.

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