A few of my Irish-American friends have spent St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, and I think it’s safe to say most (if not all) of the rest would love to do so if given the opportunity. Since I have been privileged enough to have that opportunity this year, a blog post to offer some observations seems in order.
My St. Patrick’s Day 2016 actually started, oddly enough, in London, where I had traveled for a journalism conference.
I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights in London for the all-day conference on Wednesday, then caught a flight back as early as I could on Thursday (March 17), reaching Dublin about 8 a.m
Galway, like nearly every community in Ireland, had a big parade. I saw little of it because the bus returning me from London/Dublin arrived while the parade already was under way. Part of my way home from the bus station was along the parade route, and the
sidewalks were so thronged it was hard to get by. So, although I saw little of the parade I can say it was really popular.
The streets remained packed through the afternoon, and one of the best parts of the day for me was just the people-watching. There were some truly incredible get-ups, and the whole downtown area of the city was pretty much one big street party. If Galway has an open container law, the Garda (police) definitely weren’t trying to enforce it.
Street performers were everywhere. Galway always has a few buskers along its main pedestrian mall, but the quality and quantity were stepped up yesterday.
I had a late-afternoon pint with my friend and neighbor Scott, an American professor in Ireland who runs a program very similar to mine. It was a little cool but bright and sunny so we sat outside at a pub on the main drag to talk and watch the crowd go by.
When Scott and I were done, I returned home to make some dinner. On the RTE nightly news, literally every story was about a St. Patrick’s Day parade, from around Ireland and around the world. The network’s US correspondent, Caitrona Perry, even gave a report from the parade in NYC. About half of the news reporting was in Irish language, which is unusual for this newscast. I think it had something to do with the day, and pride in Irish heritage.
After dinner I ventured out again for a bit, back uptown to check out the scene. I had been warned by a couple of local people that things got extremely rowdy as the night went on; one went so far as to call it “unsafe.” I could see why she said that in the way people were behaving, even at 7:30 p.m. Every pub had a security man in front, and where I was again having an outdoor pint and people-watching I saw several people turned away because they were obviously so intoxicated that they should not be served more. The Garda were out in force, patrolling the streets in pairs and dressed in day-glo yellow vests so they would stand out.
So the next time someone asks about whether the Irish are as hard-partying as Americans on St. Patrick’s Day, or makes the observation that they aren’t, my experiences in Galway provide a lot of evidence to the contrary.
I actually made an early night of it, returning home a little before 10 p.m., partly because I was very tired from the London trip and partly because I was beginning to think what I had been told about the extreme rowdiness was true. I didn’t see any examples of real hooliganism, but it didn’t take much imagination to realize the conditions were right for that to happen.
But overall, it was a great experience, if only for the reason that it may be unique in my lifetime: getting to spend St. Patrick’s Day here in Ireland.