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St. Patrick’s Day, Lá ‘le Pádraig, is a yearly feast day, celebrating the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick.   It’s a religious celebration here, but it has also become cause for a raucous good time.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin is now part of a five-day festival.  Last year, 500,000 people attended the city’s parade.  People cheered the bands and floats, while traditional music and Guinness flowed freely.  The week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day is known as Seachtain na Gaeilge – Irish Language Week – during which everyone is encouraged to speak what little Irish they know. Great fun in the pub! All in all, Saint Patrick’s Festival, as the five day event is now known, is the biggest nation-wide party of the year.

But it hasn’t always been that way.  As a matter of fact, you could say that Ireland came late to its own party. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade held in the Irish Free State was in Dublin, 1931.  Over the years other Irish cities have joined in. Besides Dublin, today you can expect festivals, dancing, and green food in Belfast, Derry, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Down, and Waterford. There are also parades in many of the smaller towns and villages. And to be sure, in every pub across the country this coming Monday there will be one hell of a session.

The government finally chose to take part in the festivities in 1996.  For what reason?  They decided that as long as everyone was having such a grand time, there ought to be some good purpose to it.  And, being a government, they proceeded to outline the purpose:

“—Offer a national festival that ranks amongst all of the greatest celebrations in the world and promote excitement throughout Ireland via innovation, creativity, grassroots involvement, and marketing activity.
“—Provide the opportunity and motivation for people of Irish descent, (and those who sometimes wish they were Irish) to attend and join in the imaginative and expressive celebrations.
“—Project, internationally, an accurate image of Ireland as a creative, professional and sophisticated country with wide appeal, as we approach the new millennium.”

The intent was also to place a greater emphasis on “celebrating and projecting a fluid and inclusive notion of ‘Irishness’ rather than an identity based around traditional religious or ethnic allegiance.”

Aren’t governments great? We thought we were already known as an ingenious, half-mad, creative, fun-loving bunch with a penchant for singing, drinking, red hair and freckles. Well, it is government policy now so it’s official. Still, you won’t hear us Paddies complain – how many other national governments fund lavish five-day parties where all are welcome?

As a true sign that the world is changing for the good, for the first time the Belfast City Council has agreed to give public funds to its parade. The Belfast parade is based on equality, and only the flag of St. Patrick is to be used as a symbol of the day.  Celebrating together is a great way to overcome past differences and move into the future focusing on what we have in common.


Meanwhile, Back in America… The First Parade
The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was organized in Boston by the Charitable Irish Society in the year 1737.  New York’s first celebration was held on March 17, 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British army marched through the city.  We can only imagine it was the Irish soldiers’ way of telling Americans, “Hey, we’re not really with those guys wearing the red suits and shiny buttons!”

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