Even those with only the most tenuous links to Irish ancestry (or those who simply wish they did) are eager to deck themselves in green and wish each other “Top o’ the morning” in honor of Ireland’s patron saint; but in some locations around the world, the shamrock-laden parades and parties have reached genuinely impressive levels.
Here we’ve rounded up a few of the best places in the world to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day…
Obviously Ireland needs to be top of the list, but spending St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin is truly an unforgettable experience. Since 1996, the capital has hosted an annual St. Patrick’s Festival to celebrate Irish culture, which has now grown into a five-day extravaganza of music, dance, history and parades leading up to St. Patrick’s Day itself. The festival culminates in a massive parade through the streets of Dublin – and in 2013, for the first time ever, 8,000 lucky participants from around the world have the opportunity to march in a unique “People’s Parade” alongside the usual floats and performers.
New York, USA
Another of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parades is held annually in my lovely hometown, New York City – a custom that goes back to 1762, more than a decade before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In keeping with tradition, the New York City parade doesn’t include floats or vehicles – instead, the procession consists entirely of between 150,000 and 250,000 participants on foot, in a massed gathering that can extend for over a mile. The parade usually lasts four or five hours and can attract several million spectators - including a large television audience watching at home - as it meanders along its route from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and down Fifth Avenue before finishing at the American Irish Historical Society.
Britain’s geographical proximity to Ireland means many cities have a large percentage of residents from Ireland or of Irish descent, and as a result many areas, from Manchester to Birmingham to Glasgow, host elaborate St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. For instance, Birmingham’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is reputed to be the third largest in the world, after Dublin and New York, while both Manchester and Birmingham host weeklong Irish festivals in honor of their Celtic connections. Similarly, Glasgow holds a massive two-week festival to mark the cultural legacy of the Irish in Scotland, with live music, gala dinners, and plenty of fun activities for all the family.
This lush Caribbean island may seem like another unlikely choice for St. Patrick’s Day parties, but Montserrat – sometimes known as the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean” - is in fact only one of four places in the world that have declared the Irish saint’s day a public holiday (along with the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Newfoundland and Labrador, discussed below). The reason? The island received a significant number of Irish settlers between the 17th and 18th centuries, but the holiday also commemorates an unsuccessful slave uprising that occurred in 1768. Hence St. Patrick’s Day on the island has morphed into a wide-ranging celebration of local and Irish culture, with traditional costumes, dance, food and storytelling over the course of a weeklong festival.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
About 80 per cent of the residents in this Canadian province are of Irish descent, with ancestors who emigrated during the 18th and 19th centuries. Even today the Irish influence is readily apparent, in surnames and place names, cultural traditions and even the local accent. As a result, St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday and one of the biggest party days of the year, especially in the capital, St. John’s, which has a lively pub culture akin to that found in Ireland. Be sure to catch some live music and try the local cuisine, both of which usually demonstrate a strong Irish flavor.