It’s almost Lá Fhéile Pádraig (better known to non-Gaelic speakers as St Patrick’s Day), so it’s time to get your Irish on! From Dublin to Dubai, annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations are everywhere, complete with marching bands, Irish music and quite a lot of people wearing green clothing. Not to mention green beer.
All of this hullabaloo started as a feast day commemorating the death of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, on 17 March, circa 460 AD. Born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain sometime at the end of the fourth century, Patrick was captured at age 16 by Irish raiders and sold into slavery; he spent six years in captivity as a shepherd. During his servitude Patrick became deeply religious. He later reported that God spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland, so somehow he managed to escape and find his way back to Britain.
God had more instructions for Patrick, recommending that he serve as a missionary to the Irish, so after years of religious training, he returned to the country of his bondage as a priest.
At the time there were a few Christians in Ireland, but most of the Irish were pagans who followed a nature-based religion. Patrick took up his cause enthusiastically, baptising and confirming the ‘heathens’ – not always a particularly popular thing to do, so he often found himself one step away from martyrdom. But, as scholar D. A. Binchy notes, the “moral and spiritual greatness of the man” won out: Patrick established monasteries, churches and schools across Ireland.
There are many popular misconceptions about St Patrick. The legend that he drove the snakes out of Ireland, for example, is really an allegory: instead of ‘snakes’, read ‘pagans’. He did, however, popularise the shamrock as particularly Irish, using the three-leaved plant to explain the Trinity to his converts.
St Patrick’s Day in Ireland
Today St Patrick’s Day is celebrated boisterously in Eire and Northern Ireland, but this was not always the case. It was originally a solemn religious holiday. Celebrants did get relief from Lenten food restrictions, but until the 1970s, Irish pubs were closed by law on the feast day.
It wasn’t until Irish expats took up the holiday and ran with it that Ireland truly awakened to the possibilities of St Patrick’s Day, both for the pleasure of the locals and to attract tourists. Now a bank holiday, St Paddy’s Day has become an all-out celebration of every aspect of Irish culture. And yes, the pubs are open!
Celebrate St Patrick’s Day All Around the World
Irish Americans took the lead in transforming a religious feast day into the rambunctious secular holiday we know today. To celebrate their ties to the Auld Sod, Americans of Irish descent held the first St Patrick’s Day parade in Boston in 1737. New York followed in 1762. In Chicago they’ve been dying the Chicago River green on St Patrick’s Day since 1962.
Other countries with large contingents of Irish men and women soon jumped on the party bandwagon: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK; Birmingham hosts the world’s third-largest parade (after Dublin and New York).
Plenty of other countries, inspired by Irish immigrants, the desire for a good party or both, also celebrate St Patrick’s Day in style. You can put on something green and lift a pint of Guinness in Buenos Aires, Oslo, Tokyo, Istanbul, Zagreb, Mumbai, Moscow and Singapore.
Montserrat, the ‘Emerald Isle of the Caribbean’, takes it a step further: it’s the only country other than Ireland where St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday.
In the United Arab Emirates you can enjoy all the Guinness (preferably dyed green), corned beef and cabbage, Irish stew and Irish coffee you want. The country goes all out on St Paddy’s Day, thanks to its large population of Irish immigrants. The party possibilities here are seemingly limitless. Many establishments helpfully add ‘Irish Pub’ to their names so there will be no confusion: McGettigan’s Irish Pub (Dubai), PJ O’Reilly’s Irish Pub (Abu Dhabi), Fado Irish Pub (Abu Dhabi), the Dublin Arms Irish Pub (Dubai). Other Irish-inspired establishments are equally obvious: the Irish Village, Fibber Magee’s and the Dubliner’s (all in Dubai).
Black Tap has locations in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and here, if the luck of the Irish is with you, you can enjoy a unique concoction, the Lucky Charms Shake: a marvel in green adorned with cupcake icing, gold chocolate coins, Lucky Charms cereal, marshmallows and a crispy treat.
Maewyn Succat’s Day
St Patrick is an honorary saint only; he’s never been officially canonised by the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he’s more popular than plenty of recognised saints, and we can see why. This St Paddy’s Day, wherever you are in the world, raise your Guinness and drink a toast to Maewyn Succat.