St Patrick’s Day, 17th March is the biggest date in Ireland’s cultural calendar. It’s a national holiday celebrating the patron saint with street parades, music, dance and plenty of Guinness. St Patrick is seen as a champion of the Irish people, his life and legend symbolising struggles against adversity and of course a reason for a great party! Ireland hosts a wide variety of events where you can experience the world famous ‘craic’.
As you might imagine the capital city celebrates with style across a four day festival. The main event is the parade on the big day itself where 500,000 people will watch the colourful display of floats and bands. The festival sees street performers and live music from ska bands to choirs, performing in indoor and outdoor venues across the city.
Saturday 14 March hosts the Irish boat race where University College Dublin takes on Trinity College in a 2km race along the River Liffey. In the evening there’s a more light hearted competition at The Laughter Lounge comedy venue where 10 stand-up comedians battle it out for glory.
Sunday 15 March sees a day-long street carnival, ‘The Big Day Out’ featuring aerial artists and street shows in Merrion Square. St Stephen’s Green hosts the annual Festival Céilí with traditional music and dancing. No experience is needed so take your dancing shoes!
It’s a great weekend to explore Dublin on foot and take in some of the historic landmarks. The Festival Treasure Hunt starts at 10am on Saturday 14 with a shorter children’s version also available for littler legs. And if you want to learn more about the fascinating history of St Patrick, there are highly recommended daily walking tours across the 4 days, with local historian and author Pat Liddy.
Once darkness falls, you can have fun spotting the buildings around the city that are going green for the festival. The Guinness Storehouse, Museum of Ireland and St Patrick’s Cathedral are just a few taking on an interesting new hue! And if that doesn’t sound like enough entertainment, there’s the Irish beer and whiskey festival at the RDS Main Hall which opens at 5pm Friday 13 March for the long weekend. You’ll deserve a few tasters if you manage to fit it all in!
This year historical Limerick, capital of the Shannon region, will mark the big day by hosting the 45th International Band Championship on Sunday 15 March. One of the most internationally acclaimed band competitions will see 1000 musicians from bands across Ireland, Europe and the USA compete for the title ‘Overall Parade Champion’. The Chicago Police Band, University of Southern Mississippi and Friendship Band of Northern Ireland are some of the big names in contention! There’s also a local band prize and 6 of Limerick’s finest marching bands will compete with bands from across Ireland.
Limerick City was founded by Vikings back in the 9th century but today has a distinctly more Georgian feel. The waters of the River Shannon together with the historic architecture make for a lovely setting and there are plenty of landmarks and great eateries to keep you entertained either side of all the music!
Ireland’s second city hosts one of the biggest and most vibrant St Patrick’s Day celebrations with a foodie, family friendly twist. Co. Cork is famed for its fantastic local food producers who converge on Cork for the award winning ‘Mahon Point Farmers Market’ and for the period of the festival the family friendly ‘Barry’s Tea’ Food Market.
There’s family fun right across the weekend with circus performers, street artists, live music and children’s art and crafts sessions building up to the Tuesday parade. The more grown up ‘Lee Sessions’ is an extensive free programme of traditional music hosted across the city centre pubs in the afternoons and evenings of the long weekend. Perfect for sampling the music and a pint of the brown stuff!
Dingle, Co. Kerry
The charming town of Dingle, located on the stunning Dingle Peninsula boasts the earliest St Patrick’s Day celebrations which literally start at the crack of dawn. At 6am in a long standing tradition, the Dingle Fife and Drum Band march around the town, followed by enthusiastic supporters, waking up the towns-people ready for the day! Dingle residents say it’s a magical start to the day and is followed by a 6.30am mass at the town’s St Mary’s Church.
If this seems a little early, the more traditional parade begins at lunchtime and is once again led by the Dingle band, promising music, entertainment and plenty of authentic atmosphere. Dingle has interesting shops and cosy pubs including ‘Ashes and Foxy John’s’, possibly the only hardware shop that is also a pub! Make sure you leave time to take a drive down the stunning coastline to check out what National Geographic once described as the ‘most beautiful place on earth’. And if you’re really lucky you might catch a glimpse of one of Dingle’s most famous residents too, Fungie the dolphin!
Magical Kilkenny is at the heart of medieval Ireland with a reputation for a good party. The small city is big on architecture with a maze of Norman passageways and alleys winding round the crumbling walls of abbeys, cathedrals and the 13th century castle. There is a bustling crafts industry here and a host of arts festivals including TradFest, a four day traditional music event which kick starts the St Patricks Day festivities.
TradFest is a celebration of Ireland’s traditional music and dance and features the best-loved acts in the Irish music scene. The festival promises music across the city in all manner of venues including the castle. The ‘Trad Trail’ offers a real traditional experience of intimate music sessions in pubs across the city. The annual parade offers family friendly entertainment, music master classes and craft sessions to keep all the family entertained.