Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is a bucket list experience for countless travelers. We’ve all seen the sea of green hat-wearing, Guinness-chugging people that swarm the country on its biggest national holiday. But here’s some news that may come as a surprise: those crowds are almost exclusively tourists. Most Irish people prefer to flee the streets and mark St. Patrick’s Day with their own fun traditions. Here’s how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the Irish way.
Feast on a fry
With the exception of bar staff, of course, everyone gets the day off work for St. Patrick’s Day. That calls for a typically Irish morning of a leisurely wake-up time followed by a meat feast for breakfast. The traditional Irish “fry” is a weekend institution and consists of bacon (we call them rashers), sausages, black and white pudding, and egg all fried up in a pan. Baked beans, mushrooms, hash browns, toast, and tomatoes are also acceptable additions if your plate isn’t already full enough. We wash it all down with a big mug of tea and then get ready for the day ahead.
Wear real shamrock
There’s one sure-fire way to distinguish the locals from the tourists on St. Patrick’s Day: we won’t be seen dead wearing foam leprechaun hats, fake beards, or tacky, shamrock-adorned clothing. You’re more likely to find us wearing a simple green t-shirt, a national sports jersey, or maybe the occasional Irish flag painted onto a cheek. It’s also a popular tradition to buy a bunch of real shamrock and pin it to your collar or chest. Shamrock is a delicate little plant that wilts after just a couple of hours, and when it does, it’s obligatory to drop it into your drink and toast St. Patrick.
Watch the parade
The local parade is mandatory viewing on St. Patrick’s day for locals as well as tourists. Parades are held right across the country, but Dublin hosts the biggest one with American marching bands, local dance troupes, and plenty of colorful floats. Crowds line the capital’s streets from early morning to get a good viewing spot, but most of us watch it on TV from the comfort of our own homes — usually while cooking the aforementioned fry.
Then get out of the city
Once the parades have wrapped up, the crowds lining the streets head straight for the pubs — which means that within minutes every bar and restaurant is jammed. In cities especially, you’ll find us locals getting as far away from the chaos as fast as possible. Hill walks, trips to seaside towns, family activities in the park, even a barbeque in the back garden — anything goes, as long as it’s not in town! The annual Harbour2Harbour walk along the beautiful Dublin Bay shoreline is hugely popular in the capital. As well as taking in some of the most beautiful parts of the city AND getting plenty of fresh air, participants in the walk also raise money for worthy charities each year.
Cheer on the boys at Croke Park
Irish people are fiercely proud of our national sports, Gaelic football and hurling. Both are hugely exciting to watch — hurling is actually the fastest field game in the world — and players from the biggest teams are considered national celebrities. Croke Park is the national stadium for these sports, and on St. Patrick’s Day the All-Ireland Senior Club Championship Finals for football and hurling are held there. It’s the kick-starter for the sporting season and never fails to be a great afternoon. You’ll usually need to know a club member to get a ticket, but you can also chance your luck on the GAA website or by turning up to the ticket booth before throw-in (kick-off) time.
While we’re slowly shaking off the religious shackles of our past, many Irish people do still adhere to Christian traditions — Lent being one of them. With St. Patrick’s Day usually falling in the middle of those 40 days of abstention, taking one day off to treat yourself has become a rite of passage in Ireland. We just can’t resist a good reason to celebrate, and St. Patrick’s Day is the most important Irish celebration of them all! For that very justified reason, you’re guaranteed to find us tucking into sweet treats, junk food, and various other vices on Paddy’s Day.
Have one (or two) in the local
By the time evening rolls around, the earlier crowds have faded away and the pubs are once again safe to return to. The sea of green gives way to clean-up crews, and locals brave the aftermath to mix with tourists and enjoy a beer or two. Head to any bar and expect to find lively music, laughing, dancing, and plenty of glasses raised for St. Patrick, for Ireland, and of course, for the “craic.” Here are some of the best Dublin pubs worth checking out any time of year.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!