It's Always St. Patrick's Day in This Midwestern Town
The only other time Dublin, Ohio, ever called off its St. Patrick’s Day parade was in 1993, when a super snowstorm shut down most of the region. Having to cancel this year’s festivities due to public health concerns over COVID-19 was a blow to a city where “Irish is an Attitude.” Usually, there’d be a weekend-long celebration with a shamrock pancake breakfast, a parade heavy on bagpipes and Irish dancing, a massive block party, a best-legs-in-a-kilt contest, and much carousing at beloved local watering hole The Dublin Village Tavern.
There are six different Dublins in the US, but the most Irish of them sits about 15 miles northwest of downtown Columbus. Around 14% of Dublin’s residents are of Irish descent, but local history attributes the name to a single Irishman from Dublin who visited in the early 1800s and was given naming rights to the land. Looking upon the rolling green hills, he was reminded of home. In the 200 years since, the city has embraced its Irish identity 365 days of the year.
The original buildings that comprise Historic Dublin “have that very charming feel,” said Sara Blatnik, marketing director for the Dublin Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Brick sidewalks, stacked stone fences. A lot of the businesses that have been there, and are still there today, really do embrace that Irish feel, or ‘attitude’ as we call it.”
Even a number of non-Irish businesses have been dubbed “Irish-approved” by the city and its residents. Ice cream shops offer signature shamrock sundaes; clothing, jewelry, and home-decor stores display whole sections dedicated to Irish imports. Also, while it's not technically Irish, it should be noted that Wendy's is headquartered here and that its flagship restaurant makes for a fun time.
Each summer, the city hosts the Dublin Irish Festival, the premiere three-day Irish festival anywhere in the world, including Ireland. It features hundreds of live performers spread across nearly 40 acres and pulls in more than 90,000 visitors each year, a respectable feat for a suburb with a resting population of around 48,000.
Marquee events like St. Paddy’s Day and the Irish Festival, however, don’t account for the other 359 days of the year. This is where it becomes more apparent that the city’s Irish Attitude is not just a thing dusted for special occasions. One of the more popular activities to advertise to Dublin’s visitors is the Celtic Cocktail Trail -- a passport program of 18 restaurants woven through Dublin that offer Irish-themed cocktails. Some of the participating establishments are Irish pubs, sure, but there are also Italian restaurants and nondenominational mom-and-pop shops. You meander from stop to stop, sampling cocktails and earning prizes as you fill out your passport. Zero-proof drinks are available to help make the trail inclusive, too.
The Celtic Cocktail Trail isn’t even the only Irish-themed passport program in town. There is also the Irish Fairy Door Trail. “It’s kind of like Elf on the Shelf? You buy a fairy door and invite a fairy into your home; there’s a little key on it,” Blatnik said. “It’s obviously, like, a kids’ toy, the intention of course was for kids, but we've found not only kids doing it but date nights, groups -- it’s a fun way to discover all the businesses in downtown Dublin. And have that cool Irish tie-in.” More than 5,500 people have completed the trail to date.
In response to this year’s St. Paddy’s cancellations, Dublin neighborhoods organized a Shamrock Hunt over social media; kids made shamrocks and hung them in the windows of their houses for others to find, treasure hunt-style. “So neighborhood kids can go around and find the different shamrocks in the different windows,” Blatnik said, “and keep that [social] distancing but still be able to get outside and celebrate in little ways.”
Irish restaurants still served carryout, and even some of the restaurants that aren’t Irish added solidarity menu items like corned beef. As it turns out, you can cancel a huge St. Patrick's Day celebration, but you can't cancel an attitude.
“That’s in our DNA as a community,” Blatnik said. “Everything stems from that.”