By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
It’s that glorious month when everyone, everywhere is Irish regardless of ancestry or nationality.
And, Ireland, where the patron saint’s day was once celebrated in a somewhat more somber and spiritual manner, now pulls out all the stops with fun festivals, parades, and other lively celebrations all over the country – some of which go on for a week or more.
Of course, the epicenter of Ireland’s celebration is Dublin where St. Patrick’s Festival this year promises some thousands of artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and performers in a program that runs from March 16 to 19 with more than 30 assorted events scheduled. The theme for this year’s festival is “Ireland You Are” to celebrate the Irish as a culturally diverse, complex, and brave society. Dublin poet and playwright Stephen James Smith was commissioned to write a poem, “My Ireland,” to reflect that theme. His poem will be presented during the festival.
The four-day event annually attracts more than 100,000 visitors from abroad and is highlighted by a parade down O’Connell Street at noon on March 17. During the festival, community groups and pageant companies from around the country will present performances and street theatre on topics like tales of the faeries, ancient mythical tribes, pirates, and the living landscape.
The Dublin festival has expanded this year with events spreading outside the city center to Swords, Blanchardstown, Howth. There is even a mystery train ride planned to the Wild Atlantic Way. See stpatricksfestival.ie for more information on the Dublin events.
Cork City’s Festival, with the theme “Cork – A City of Community, Culture, & Commerce,” includes a parade on March 17 and varied events that run through to March 19. For more details, see corkstpatricksfestival.ie, cork.ie, and discoverireland.ie/southwest.
This is the 114th anniversary of the Galway St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which starts March 17 at 11:30 a.m. and ends about 1 p.m. The city’s multi-faceted festival runs in various venues around the city from March 15-17.
The Galway festival showcases local artists and community groups and celebrates the city’s diverse culture and talent through an extensive program of events. This year the parade highlights include Galway Arts Centre, Colors Street Theatre, An Taibhdhearc Theatre, and Galway Theatre Festival with community groups such as Foróige, GAA clubs, Amnesty International, and The Russian Culture Club presenting a picture of the city’s mix of cultural and ethnic diversity. See galwaytourism.ie for more.
PIPE BANDS ON ACHILL
There are celebrations in nearly every town and city on the island at this special time of year so you won’t have too hard a time finding something fun to do.
In many villages on Achill Island in Co. Mayo, for instance, there is a pipe band tradition and on St. Patrick’s Day these bands play a central role in celebrations.
After a 6 a.m. reveille, the bands spend most of the day marching. After watching the bands, be sure to stop for refreshments at many locations on the island and then make time to see Achill Island’s spectacular scenery. In the evening, traditional and modern entertainment is offered in the island’s pubs and hotels. See achilltourism.com for more details.
ST. PATRICK CENTRE
If you’re on the East Coast and have even one spare day, a drive up to the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, is well worth the couple of hours required to get there. (The scenery along the route makes the trip worthwhile, too.)
The St. Patrick Centre has planned a 17-day festival featuring Irish and international artists who will celebrate with curated events and a program suitable for all tastes.
The festival opens with bells that symbolically unite churches and creeds in villages, townlands, and cities in Armagh and Down, and celebrate the life of the saint in the landscape that was once his home: Armagh City, Downpatrick, Newry, Loughgall, Dundrum, Castle Ward, the Mourne Mountains, and Slieve Gullion.
The first festival weekend, March 3-5, focuses on Pre-Christian Myths and Legends, highlighting the first people and cultures St. Patrick encountered before beginning his Christian ministry.
The second weekend, March 10-12, is titled “Spiritual Journeys” as the festival focuses on another spiritual culture, the Sufis, with performances by The Secret Ensemble’s eight musicians. This is the group’s debut of their music in the UK and Ireland and these will be exclusive performances in Armagh and Downpatrick cathedrals.
“Contemporary Celebrations” is the theme for the final weekend (March 17-19) that will include public processions, traditional religious ceremonies, and family entertainment.
The St. Patrick Centre is a fascinating place to visit at any time of year and is the world’s only permanent exhibit about Ireland’s patron saint. The Centre also has an outstanding craft shop with art and design by many gifted artists as well as a garden café. For more information, visit: saintpatrickcentre.com
DROGHEDA GIN SCHOOL
Here’s something fun, different and interesting to do while you’re visiting the Emerald Isle. Ireland’s first gin school – Listoke Distillery and Gin School - opened recently in a 200-year-old stable at Listoke House in Drogheda, Co. Louth.
Participants in small classes at the distillery will learn the secrets and history of gin and make their own special brew to take home.
Says James McKenna, sales and marketing director for Listoke Distillery: “Having recently returned to Ireland after 18 years working in the bar industry in New York, I was struck by the interest in gin, and saw the opportunity to recapture Ireland’s heritage of spirit production.”
In addition to the gin school, a visit to Listoke estate offers an art gallery, extensive and beautifully restored Edwardian gardens, a garden shop, and tearooms. The property is also available for weddings, meeting and other occasions.
Classes can be booked up to three months in advance. See listokedistillery.ie for more.
AWARDS FOR HOTELS
Harvey’s Point Hotel in Co. Donegal was recently named Ireland’s best hotel as well as 10th best hotel in Europe in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice awards. Harvey’s also finished first in the “best service” category and second in “most romantic” category.
Castlewood House in Dingle, Co. Kerry, finished 12th in the world, tenth in Europe and first in Ireland in the “bargain” category. Castlewood was also named 13th best hotel in Europe and first in Ireland for “small hotels” and most romantic Irish hotel.
In the luxury hotel category, the Killarney Park Hotel in Killarney, Co. Kerry, was named Ireland’s best, while Pax Guest House in Dingle, Co. Kerry, was named top Irish B&B. Pillo Hotel in Ashbourne, Co. Meath, won Ireland’s best family hotel.
“Unlike other hospitality awards,” a TripAdvisor spokesman said, “These are based on feedback from actual guests over the past year.”
Georgina Campbell, an Irish travel authority, has her own take on Irish accommodation. “What we seek is not perfection but real food and hospitality with real heart and we’re finding it in clusters of excellence all over the country.” She noted Ireland’s growth as a food tourism destination with an “explosion” of casual dining.
Campbell said, “Our least satisfactory experiences have again tended to be in four and five-star hotels. Higher prices mean higher expectations, of course, but the high level of dissatisfaction is often down to simple things that could easily be fixed at any level, plus a lack of hospitality (which often means lack of a host) and poor staff training.”
For more of Campbell’s recommendations see irish-guide.com.
Enjoy your visit to Ireland whenever and wherever you go. Spring is on the horizon and travel deals are sprouting in this shoulder season.
Have a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.