As most of you probably know St. Patrick’s Day, or Lá Fhéile Phadraig, the 17th of March, is the national day of Ireland. “What’s that got to do with the rest of us?” you might ask… Well, as the Americans say, on Paddy’s Day everyone is a little bit Irish! And the Americans would know! St. Patrick’s Day has been observed in the U.S. since 1737 in Boston and in New York since 1762, and the oldest and biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world has been taking place in New York City since 1766 – long before there was ever any parade in Ireland itself! These days Paddy’s Day festivities are held all over Europe and North America and every other continent bar Antarctica.
But who was St. Patrick?
St. Patrick was a Roman Briton, born in 385A.D. in what is today Wales. When he was about 15 years old he was captured by Irish pirates and enslaved. For the next six years or so he looked after pigs and other livestock until he eventually escaped and made his way back to Britannia. He began to study Christianity and a few years later he had a vision in which he heard the “voice of the Irish” asking him to return, which he did in 432A.D. The story goes that the Irish were not too impressed with Patrick’s attempts to convert them to Christianity them as the idea of three persons in the one god made no sense to them, until Patrick had the bright idea of using a shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity; three leaves, one plant! The shamrock is, to this day, the national symbol of Ireland. Legend also has it that Patrick banished snakes from Ireland, although natural history suggests there were never any snakes on the island for him to banish – but why let the truth get in the way of a good story!
Why the 17th of March?
St. Patrick is believed to have died on the 17th of March in the year 461A.D. and in the early 1600s, as he was the patron saint of Ireland, this became a solemn holy day of obligation. It was made a public holiday in 1903 and for Catholics the Lenten ban on drinking alcohol was lifted for the day, giving rise to the custom of “wetting/drowning the shamrock”, but as alcoholic consumption got out of hand another law was soon passed to prohibit public houses from opening on 17 March! This law was only repealed in the 1970s so unsurprisingly the national day tended to be celebrated to a much greater degree amongst the Irish diaspora than by those on the Emerald Isle itself.
Paddy’s Day these days has more in common with the carnival, both in Ireland and in traditional Irish emigrant destinations like the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Britain. In more recent times the festivities have spread around the globe to such an extent that Saint Patrick’s Day is now celebrated in more countries than any other national festival. Outside Ireland when the 17th falls during the working week the celebrations are usually held on the closest weekend but in Savannah, Georgia and New York City (where they close off 5th Avenue for the parade!) the official events always take place on the day itself.
The Caribbean island of Montserrat deserves a special mention here too, as the only other place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day as its national day. Often referred to as the “Emerald Isle of the Caribbean”, Montserrat at one time had a large Irish population and even today Irish surnames and place names are common. If you do decide to make a trip there your passport will be stamped with a large green shamrock!
In the last few decades, increasing numbers of Irish people have made their homes on the European continent, particularly since Ireland joined the E.U. in 1973. Of course, they took Paddy’s Day with them wherever they went and so, if you feel the urge, there is no shortage of venues where you can dress in green, drink copious amounts of beer and maybe burst into song on 17 March!
The best tactic is to try and find out where the Irish themselves go. Some of the biggest parties happen in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, Munich, Berlin, Brussels and Madrid. Closer to home, there are plenty of Irish pubs in Barcelona too – although beware; like in most cities, some are Irish in name only. Giving a pub an Irish name has become a good business and many less than authentic versions have popped up all over the world. On the Costa Brava there are a few such examples, easily found through a Google search.
If you want a genuine Irish-owned and Irish-run bar though, you could head for The Currach in Palamós, located just across from the church. Here you can sample Irish craft beers and select from a range of Irish whiskies and on Paddy’s Day, the final day of the 6 Nations will be shown live, including of course the final game between Ireland and the “Auld Enemy” which could decide the whole championship! This will be followed by a live ballad session with lots of booze and craic*!
If you find yourself in Girona there is another Irish-owned pub called McKiernan’s right in the centre of town on Rambla de la Libertat where you can also catch all the rugby action live. Just be sure to wear as much green as you can!
*Craic is a word from the Irish language that has no direct translation in English but is a cover-all term generally meaning ‘fun, entertainment, quality conversation, laughter’ etc… Basically just having a great time! There’ll be plenty of that on the 17th!