Saint Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us, and at Dandelion Chandelier we’re excited to celebrate it with our friends. As you know, we freely invite ourselves to every good party, and this one is no exception. We still remember fondly when the Irish embraced former President Obama in the 2011 as a blood relative because he had a trace of Ireland in his ancestry (he visited the town of Moneygall—home of his great-great-great grandfather—and met some distant cousins for the first time). Hey, at least once a year, we’re all Irish!
When it’s not March 17th, almost 40 million Americans—11.1% of the total population—still report having Irish ancestry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Irish is the second most popular ethnicity Americans claim, following German). An additional three million people separately identify as Scotch-Irish – their ancestors were Ulster Scots who emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Compare that to a current population of only 6.4 million on the island of Ireland itself.
Here’s a quick primer for those who may not be fully up to speed on St. Patrick’s Day and its traditions (but first, a fun fact: according to Statista, one in 161 Americans is named Patrick).
The holiday began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland, marked on the day of his death. Ironically, St. Patrick wasn’t born in Ireland: according to the traditional narrative, he was born in England in the 5th century, and at age 16 he was enslaved by Irish raiders who transported him to the Emerald Isle and held him there for six years. He later fled back to England, received religious instruction, and then returned to Ireland to serve as a Christian missionary. The record is clouded on whether he was Celtic or Roman by blood – turns out he may have been Italian, not British – further proof that it’s what we do, not where we’re born, that we’ll be remembered for.
Legend has it that Patrick stood on an Irish hillside and delivered a sermon that drove the island’s snakes into the sea. While Ireland is actually snake-free, the History Channel assures us that scholars have concluded that the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology. Another legend has it that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock. That’s how the tradition of wearing shamrocks and green on the day of his death originated.
Until the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day was a Roman Catholic feast only observed in Ireland—the faithful spent the occasion in quiet prayer at church or at home. As Irish immigrants arrived in America in the 1840s, March 17th began to take on importance as a day to mark Irish pride; the day in the patron saint’s honor gradually came to be associated with anything related to Ireland. Today, 127 million Americans (56.3%, up from 44.1% just five years ago) say that they plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – of those, over 80% will wear green; 40% will make a special meal, and 30% will attend a party. Collectively, they’re expected to spend $4.6 billion.
In addition to the historical elements, we like to think of St. Patrick’s Day as celebrating creativity, spunk, and resilience, in the spirit of these famous children of Ireland: James Hoban, the architect who designed the White House; Grace O’Malley – the Pirate Queen – who personally convinced Elizabeth the First to free her and her family despite all the English loot they’d taken; Dorothy Stopford Price, a physician who introduced a vaccine against childhood tuberculosis that is still used today; and Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, both of whom served as Presidents of Ireland.
Here are some ideas on how to make this year’s St. Patrick’s Day meaningful and memorable:
—Visit Boston. Of all U.S. cities, Boston is home to the most concentrated Irish population: 20.4 percent of the city’s residence are of Irish descent. In 1961, John F. Kennedy famously became the first Irish-American Catholic president, and greater Boston keeps his spirit alive in many venues, including the John F. Kennedy Museum and the Kennedy School at Harvard (fun fact: According to the Christian Science Monitor, Andrew Jackson is actually the U.S. President with the closest ties to the Emerald Isle: both of his parents were born in Country Antrim, and moved to America in 1765, two years before his birth). There’s a large St. Patrick’s Day parade (you can decide if you’re up for that). If you want a great historical overview of the impact of Ireland on the city, the best idea is to follow the Irish Heritage Trail – it’s a circuit through the main parts of town, easily walkable, that will show you all the high points. Other luxuries await that we urge you to experience while you’re in town, even though they have nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; the New England Aquarium; and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We recommend staying at the Four Seasons – with its excellent service, view over the Public Garden and proximity to Newberry Street shopping, it’s the perfect location for any adventure; our friends also love the boutique hotels XV Beacon and Nine Zero.
—Spend some time in Chicago. An iconic annual St. Patrick’s image is Chicago’s annual dyeing of the Chicago River green. The practice started in 1962, when city pollution-control workers used dyes to trace illegal sewage discharges and realized that the green dye might provide a unique way to celebrate the holiday. That year, they released 100 pounds of green vegetable dye into the river–enough to keep it green for a week. Today, it’s green only for a few hours (it’s happening on March 11 this year, as is the annual parade). But there’s a lot more to see in the Windy City than that. To mark the holiday, your first stop should be the Irish American Heritage Center. You can also visit the park named after Maggie C. Daley, Chicago’s longtime first lady. Catch Gaelic Storm performing at the House of Blues, accompanied by a good craft beer (that’s a big thing in Chicago, so no need to opt for green suds unless you want to). Non-holiday related stops that you should make: the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum Campus – which includes the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium; the Lyric Opera; and luxury shopping on the Magnificent Mile. For hotels, you cannot go wrong with the Four Seasons, the Peninsula, or the boutique Thompson Chicago. The city is still giddy from the Cubs’ World Series victory, so this is definitely a good time to go.
—Visit Dublin. What better time to do this? Approximately 1 million people annually take part in Ireland‘s St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, a multi-day celebration featuring parades, concerts, outdoor theater productions and fireworks shows. Whether you go for the holiday, or later, here are some key sites to see in Dublin: St. Stephen’s Green, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Phoenix Park, the James Joyce Bridge, Trinity College and Dublin Castle. For your hotel, the Shelbourne or the Merrion would both be great choices. If you have time, take a drive to the upscale coastal village of Dalkey; visit Glendalough, a 7th century monastery; see the Cliffs of Moher; and spend a night at Dromoland Castle in County Clare.
—Host a dinner party. No time to travel? Have people over on March 17th (conveniently, it’s a Friday this year) and make some late-winter warming traditional dishes: Irish soda bread (which gets its name and distinctive character from the use of baking soda rather than yeast as a leavening agent); Irish stew (with Guinness stout, of course); or corned beef and cabbage (optional – it’s the clichéd meal but definitely not a necessity). Waterford crystal is a famous Irish export, as are fine Irish linens, so set a gorgeous table, and don’t feel obligated to make everything green. If you want to have some fun, make your color scheme a springtime blend of pale shades of green, orange (or perhaps peach) and white – those are the colors of the Irish flag and they’ll make for a stunning and classy presentation that will also welcome in the spring on March 20th.
—Take in a movie. There are so many choices! There’s a plethora of actors, directors, writers and producers of Irish descent, plus movies set in Ireland or about Irish history. Here are a few ideas. George Clooney is Irish (as if we needed an excuse to re-watch one of his films). So are Liam Neeson, Daniel Day Lewis, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Anne Hathaway, Julia Roberts, Bill Murray, Sean Penn, Harrison Ford, Michael Moore and Johnny Depp. Ditto actress Judy Garland, actor Peter O’Toole, directors John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston, and Gone with the Wind producer David O. Selznick. Classic films with Irish themes include My Left Foot, The Quiet Man, The Departed, Waking Ned Devine, Gangs of New York, The Commitments, and The Crying Game.
—Come to New York City. Greater New York has the largest Irish population in America: 12.9 percent of its residents claim Irish ancestry, which compares to a rate of 11.1 percent of the country overall. New York City also has the distinction of being host to the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade – it took place on March 17, 1762, and featured Irish soldiers in the English military. Today it draws over 200,000 participants and nearly 2 million people line the parade route, which runs along 5th Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street. It’s noisy and crowded, and we can’t say in all honesty that attending this parade is a luxurious experience. A more genteel celebration can be achieved by visiting the Irish Hunger Memorial at the corner of Vesey Street and North End Avenue; attending a taping of Stephen Colbert’s Late Show or Conan O’Brien’s TBS show; or crossing the river to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. You should definitely make time to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral – just not on March 17th. We’d stay a bit off the beaten path in midtown on this trip, as it will be a madhouse – instead, set up your luxurious base camp at the Ritz Carlton at Battery Park, the new 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, or the charming Walker Hotel in Greenwich Village.
—Test drive a luxury Ford. Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, was Irish. You can kick it mogul-style while celebrating Irish business leaders by taking a Ford GT supercar out for a spin: it’s the most expensive car in the automaker’s history, costing about $400,000, and the company plans to make only 250 of each year. In honor of other successful Irish business leaders, you could also order a pie as a nod to Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza; or re-read one of GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch’s books; or go to Disney Land to see the wonders of Walt Disney’s imagination. It goes without saying that we all need to hoist a cold one in honor of Arthur Guinness, founder of the eponymous brewery.
—Listen to some music. Three of the Beatles (Lennon, McCartney and Harrison) were of Irish descent. So are Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Pink, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake. You could do a Flashback Friday and listen to some old-school Judy Collins, Bing Crosby, George M. Cohan, or Tommy Dorsey. Or go full Celtic and cue up The Dubliners, The Chieftains, The Pogues, or Gaelic Storm. We confess, we cry whenever we hear the 1913 classic “Danny Boy,” but hey, that’s just us.
—Read a book that illuminates historical experiences; revisit some of the world’s greatest poems; celebrate a playwright; or read a classic novel written by or about the Irish:
—Novels: Ulysses and Finnegans Wake by James Joyce; Dracula by Bram Stoker; Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift; The Awakening by Kate Chopin; The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien; TransAtlantic by Colum McCann; Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín; Under the Net by Iris Murdoch; Mystic River by Dennis Lehane; The Road by Cormac McCarthy; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney; The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien; Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor; Faithful Place by Tana French; and Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
—Non-fiction: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt; How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill; Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland by David McKittrick; and The Devil’s Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America by Barnet Schecter
—Poetry: William Butler Yeats; Seamus Heaney; Patrick Kavanagh; Louis MacNeice; Eavan Boland; George William (AE) Russell; Thomas Moore; and John Montague
—Plays: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett; Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw; The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde; The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill; Love! Valour! Compassion! by Terrence McNally; Doubt: A Parable by John Patrick Shanley; Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel; and The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
As further proof that the world loves an excuse for a good party, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many locations far from Ireland and America, including Japan, Singapore and Russia. So wherever you are, you’re likely to find someone willing to shout Erin Go Bragh! with you. However you decide to join in the celebration, we hope by the end of it you feel lucky.