March 17th is not just a day to honour Ireland’s patron saint; it’s the day for all to celebrate Ireland’s rich culture through music, dance, food and literature, and of course, lots of craic.
The month of March celebrates the coming of Spring; vibrant daffodils and crocuses bursting out of the soil and tiny buds popping out of trees, daylight slowly lasting longer than night-time and the changing of the clock. However, for Irish people, first, second or no matter how many generations back, March is all about the green and the time to celebrate being Irish. No matter where an Irish person, or an Irish descendant, lives, you can be sure that there will be a St Patrick’s Day celebration. It is a cultural festival where, and I may be biased here, everyone wants to be Irish, if only for one day.
For over 1,000 years, St Patrick’s Day has been celebrated annually on March 17th, the anniversary of the saint’s death in the fifth century. It was a religious celebration or what Catholics will recall as “a holy day of obligation”, which involved attending mass before any other celebrations began. Despite being one of Christianity’s most widely known figures, the story behind St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is a mystery. The legend of him banishing all the snakes from Ireland may be dubious, but we do know that he brought Christianity to the Irish and has been revered ever since. Today, while still a holy day, it has become a wider-reaching cultural festival.
One of the main reasons St Patrick’s Day is celebrated globally is because of Ireland’s long history of emigration. In the 1840s, Ireland experienced a devastating potato plague, the resulting Great Famine (an Gorta Mór), which turned a trickle into a flow of emigrants, with over one million men, women and children emigrating to escape the famine, poverty, or death. That flow continues today, with emigration becoming an accepted part of Irish life. However, like many migrants, the Irish retain and share a strong connection with their culture while making their new country their home. A video produced by Fáilte Ireland, the Irish Tourist Board, gives insight into Irish celebration and our history of immigration,
For hundreds of years, from a small island on the edge of Europe, we have shared our music, poetry, art, literature, culture and heritage, and most of all, our people with communities and countries worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, the Irish diaspora in Britain takes St Patrick’s Day very seriously and invites everyone to the party. There has always been a special, if sometimes tumultuous, relationship between Ireland and Britain. Over 500,000 people left independent Ireland between 1945 and 1960—with three out of every four heading for Britain. Working alongside Windrush migrants and those who came from India and other UK colonies, they helped reignite the British economy, building roads, repairing bombed buildings, and staffing the NHS, the factories, and the railways of a soon-to-be booming Britain. Like many migrants, Irish immigrants found it hard to adjust initially, with many on both sides finding different accents hard to understand. This quote, taken from an article in the Irish Times, reflects similar migrant stories and poems found in the TogetherintheUK anthology Hear Our Stories, due to be published by Victorina Press in August 2023,
Everyone had the same: no one had anything. I was mocked for my accent; no one could understand me, and I couldn’t understand the teachers or other pupils, so I just didn’t speak. Liz.
The Irish in Britain are now one of the oldest ethnic groups living here. While continuing a strong connection with their home country, they have settled in the UK to form part of a rich tapestry of cultures forming today’s British society.
My granny came here from County Mayo in the fifties to work in the NHS as a nurse. She married an Englishman and settled here. We consider ourselves English and Irish and are proud to have a dual heritage. We always celebrate St Patrick’s Day, and this year will be no different. Ciarán
In 2022, post-covid, people were delighted to once again see the St Patrick’s Day parade in London and this year, on Sunday, March 12th, London’s St Patrick’s Day celebration is returning bigger and better with a parade and series of events celebrating Irish culture and heritage. More than 50,000 people of all nationalities are expected to join the procession, starting in Green Park and finishing in Trafalgar Square with Irish/Iraqi entertainer Riyadh Khalaf as compere. In a recent press release announcing the event, Sadiq Khan, Lord Mayor of London, said,
London’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations are a real highlight of our city’s cultural calendar and a symbol of the strength of the relationship between the UK and Ireland. London has the largest Irish community in the UK and for centuries, Irish Londoners have made an enormous contribution to the success of our capital city…Irish Londoners are integral to the fabric of our city.
In the same release, Martin Fraser, Ireland’s Ambassador to the UK, commented on the strength of the relationship between Irish migrants (of all generations) and the people of the UK.
…I have witnessed the strength, cohesion and kinship of the Irish community here in London and across the country. The challenges of the last few years have proved the resilience of our community and also shown the ways that we have come together in solidarity.
However, London is not the only city celebrating this day; there are events planned around the country, from Glasgow to Belfast, so wherever you are and wherever you are from, you can enjoy a fantastic cultural festival.
Celebrating St Patrick’s Day and Irish culture is not just for the Irish; we offer a Céad Míle Fáilite to one and all. Be prepared to join a sea of green by wearing some green on the day and listen to traditional folk music played alongside the sounds of U2, Sinéad O’ Connor, The Script, and The Waterboys. Take time out to read some of Ireland’s literary geniuses, from Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, and WB Yeats to Emma Donoghue and Sally Rooney. Indulge in delicious Irish foods such as soda bread, bacon and cabbage (typical Irish St Patrick’s Day dinner) or a hearty Irish Stew. Watch entertainers like Liam Neeson, Paul Mescal, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, and Ruth Negga. And, of course, feel free to toast the Irish with any drink of your choice as long as you say Sláinte, wishing health to all.
And remember #GoGreen4PatricksDay.
London St Patrick’s Day – details