St Patrick’s Day (2)
The St Patrick’s Day Parade
While the multitude of periphery events changes by the year, the St Patrick’s Day Parade itself (always held on March 17) is a constant, and the backbone of the festival. As many as 700,000 green-tinged festivalgoers descend upon the city centre en masse to drink and dance the day away, and cheer on the assorted marching bands, floats and themed pageants. The parade starts at around noon at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Patrick Street, but get there earlier as the warm¬up street entertainment begins at 11 am. The parade then heads off up Patrick Street, winding its way north through town before finishing by the Black Church near Dorset Street Upper. To get a really good view, it’s best to secure a place as near to O’Connell Bridge, at the southern end of O’Connell Street, as early in the day as possible. If you’d rather save your legs for the Irish dancing later on, you can buy a seat for €60 in one of the various grandstand locations along the parade route in advance from the St Patrick’s Day Festival office on Earlsfort Terrace.
After the parade, most of the revellers make their way to Earlsfort Terrace, at the southeastern comer of St Stephen’s Green, for the hugely popular Ceili Mor (literally “Great Dance Event”) – a veritable orgy of Irish dance and live bands – where the alcohol-fuelled exuberance of the crowd is tempered only by the trained dancers who try to forge some semblance of choreography from the increasingly malleable mass. Once you’ve spent a couple of hours looking like a reject from Riverdance, it’s a short walk from the Ceili to any number of pubs, though only the music in O’donoghue’s, the traditional watering-hole of the fathers of Irish folk, The Dubliners, matches the high tempo of the earlier dancing.
Gaelic football and hurling
As well as drinking, and celebrating Irish music and dance, the St Patrick’s Day Festival also showcases the traditional sports of Gaelic football and hurling. On March 17, in the country’s largest sports stadium, Croke Park, local village teams bleed and sweat (hurlers and Gaelic footballers don’t cry) for the honour of their family, village and club, and the chance of winning the All-Ireland Senior Club Championships. Far from the choreographed entertainment that now masquerades as team sport, this is the real deal, with the winning team being crowned champions of Ireland. The level of skill on display is breathtaking, most especially in the exhilarating stick sport of hurling, and the sense of community in the crowd gives as good a flavour of small-town rural Ireland as you’re likely to get without leaving Dublin. Tickets for the games can be purchased at the stadium on the day without any difficulty. For more details, see the Gaelic Athletic Association’s website (®www.gaa.ie).