Officially, St Patrick’s Day commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. But these days it seems more like a celebration of the arrival of the restless Irish on the shores of the rest of the world. Parades and festivities sweep across Europe, America, Asia and Australasia, splashing green over cities from Buenos Aires to Moscow. Inevitably, though, the biggest and best celebrations are concentrated either in Ireland itself, or in that land across the water, where so many Irish immigrants settled in successive waves from the 17th century on. Here we list five of the best cities in which to celebrate St Paddy and everything Irish.
New York’s massive St Patrick’s Day Parade reaches back down the centuries to the roots of the United States. The first march took place 14 years before the Declaration of Independence, in 1762, and it continues to follow the same route along 5th Avenue today. It’s a relatively stripped-down affair – no floats or balloons, just swaying Irish kilts and sporrans, bagpipes, step dancers, firefighters, cops, school bands, and the heart-swelling sight of 200,000 focused marchers. If the march itself is surprisingly regimented, however, the streets around it tend to be less so, heaving with people tottering in and out of innumerable pubs and bars which throw open their doors from 11am on. A conveniently located Irish establishment is McSorley’s Old Ale House, or you could try the universal tradition of the pub crawl.
Back in Ireland itself, there is nothing sombre about the St Patrick’s Day parade that meanders through Dublin. It’s a vibrantly colorful exhibition of floats, costumes and impromptu musical performances, many referencing moments in nationalist Irish history or in the country’s Celtic folklore. The parade forms part of an entire festival which spreads across the whole weekend, and has a roster of happenings encompassing film, music, comedy, sport, and Gaelic-language events. And alongside the organized fun is a bubbling stream of anarchic revelry, breaking out in street performances, busking, political lectures, pub gigs, and much more. Somewhere guaranteed to have some quality Celtic entertainment is the Brazen Head, which claims to be Ireland’s oldest pub, dating back to 1198.
The politics may be a little more convoluted, but there’s no lack of energy at London’s St Patrick Day festivities, which sees a colorful parade take to the streets, surrounded by the city’s diverse Irish groups bearing Gaelic-language flags. And being London, the parade is dashed with an exceptionally broad cultural palette: expect green kimonos, emerald-robed Hare Krishnas, Latin dance troupes, and much more. Beyond the parade, there’s live Irish music and dance in Trafalgar Square, an incongruous sight beneath the stern gaze of Lord Nelson – an equivalent statue erected in Dublin was destroyed by Irish Republicans in 1966. A short walk from the square you can find one of the world’s biggest Irish bars, The Porterhouse, which despite its 12 different levels is inevitably rammed.
Chicago is still pretty chilly in March, but this doesn’t stop thousands of people pouring out onto the streets to celebrate the country whose immigrants built much of today’s Windy City. Festivities begin in fabulous fashion, as crowds line the riverbank to watch the water turn a bright emerald green. This is followed by a jubilant parade, replete with bag pipes, Clydesdales, marching bands and Irish dance troupes, which evolves into a sprawling street party. If you need to head inside and warm up, Fado’s Irish Pub will ensure you stay with the vibe, or you could grab some Irish cuisine at Chief O'Neill's Pub & Restaurant.
The whole of Georgia seems to stream into the streets and squares of Savannah on St Patrick’s Day, which claims to have the second-largest parade in the world. Its parks flood with tables and chairs as people set up tailgating parties, and the entire city is draped in green, which spurts from the fountains and clings to the fur of every domestic creature in town. As the day darkens, head to one of the town’s Irish pubs to continue the celebrations into the wee hours. Kevin Barry’s has a lively bar and serves decent grub until 2am, and there’s no better way to drift through a drunken stupor than listening to live Irish folk in its second-floor music room.