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What Is St. Patrick's Day Like in Ireland?



Every year people ask, so I thought it might be interesting to share. What is St. Patrick’s Day like in Ireand? Are there parades? Does everyone wear green? Are there special traditions, rituals, or activities? As a non-Irish person living here, I will try to describe my experience.

And to start with, it is worth pointing out that Ireland is not culturally homogenous - so whether, and to what extent, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated will depend on what part of the country you are in. I was watching the Hawthorn Cottage Craft podcast the other day, and found it interesting when Kate commented that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated abroad more than it is in Ireland. No doubt this is true where she lives. However, we are on the border of Donegal and Derry, and St. Patrick’s Day is huge here. Considering that my main ‘elsewhere in the world’ point of comparison is Boston, that is saying something! Having attended the famous parade in South Boston a handful of times, and likewise the big parade in Derry, I can say that the Derry parade definitely ‘wins’!

In our region at least, St. Patrick’s Day parades are also not limited to the larger cities and towns. Even the tiny local-to-me town of Falcarragh holds their own parade down the main street.


I have noticed also that the atmosphere of the St. Patrick’s Day parades here, is different to what I remember from the US.

Granted it has been a while, but I remember the Boston parade having religious elements, and also being quite heavy on the marching bands. The big Derry parade here, in the years I have attended, has been entirely pagan. Pre-Christian mythological characters coming alive as giant floats, that sort of thing. There are also political elements, relating mainly to LBGT and environmental issues. But nothing religious as far as I recall, except when done for ironic effect.

The parades in the smaller towns on the Donegal side of the border do feature pipe bands, but not so much the parade in Derry (I am trying to describe all this without delving into the deeper historical context, as that would make this post unmanageably long!).


As far as rituals, traditions, and general behaviour… Well, people definitely wear green. Those celebrating the religious aspect of the holiday wear shamrock sprigs on their lapels. These are sold as tiny potted plants in many local shops and I always enjoy seeing them this time of year.

As far as drunken rowdiness, which some have asked me about as well… Interestingly, I really have not experienced much of it in Ireland. St. Patrick’s Day festivities here are very child-friendly and family-oriented. So I suppose some people do drink, but it’s not about the drinking - in the way it tends to be in, say, American urban St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. It is a different vibe here, and it is definitely not a ‘let’s use this as an occasion to get drunk’ type of holiday.

When attending the parades and other festivities, it is popular for people to paint their faces and dress up. Mostly it is children who do this, but sometimes adults as well. People wear wreaths upon their heads, fairy wings clipped to the backs of their coats, various capes, fascinators in the style of leprechaun’s hats, that sort of thing. In that sense, St. Patrick’s Day here is not unlike Halloween - only without the dark, spooky elements. More than anything else, I suppose it feels like a festival to greet the coming of Spring.

Being neither Irish, nor Christian, I would have thought my own participation in St. Patrick’s Day would be limited to that of an observer. But the spirit of it does draw me in. And the secular nature of the celebrations - at least in my corner of Ireland - make me feel entirely included. I have been to the parades a few times, and enjoyed them pretty actively. And I do wear green every year (which I never, ever did before moving here!).


Design-wise, my contribution to St. Patrick’s Day this year is Móinéar. I am normally terrible at timing patern releases to coincide with special occasions, but I’m trying! Alas, this lovely green sample does not live with me and so I won’t be wearing it this Sunday. But I will muster up something green and hand-knitted for the occasion if we go out.

More than anything, St. Patrick’s Day in our corner of Ireland makes me feel as if spring has arrived. The flowers are in bloom, the land sheds its heavy winter atmosphere, and we all come out to celebrate… naturally, in the freezing rain and bone-chilling wind! But that is what wool is for.