How “Irish” is Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day mega-party?

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, when one million “Irish for the day” will descend on Dublin, turning it into “the party capital of the world”, according to Dublin Tourism.

It sounds like fun, like a wee little Mardi Gras. Trouble is, writes Austin Kelley in a Slate piece on the global explosion of faux Irish pubs, Dublin’s St. Paddy’s Day party is a sham:

A few decades back, St. Patrick’s Day was a relatively quiet day in Ireland. It was a religious holiday; pubs were closed, and no one dyed anything green. A typical Dubliner might attend Mass, eat a big meal with the family, and nod off early. In the ’90s, my friends who grew up in Dublin used to go to a hotel on St. Paddy’s Day to watch the American tourists sing Irish drinking songs and celebrate excess.

In 1995, the Irish government saw potential in international “Irish” revelry. They reinvented the holiday at home to kick-start the tourist season. Now thousands of partiers head to Ireland for the “St. Patrick’s Day Season” as Guinness has called this time of year. (It used to be called “March” or, for Irish Catholics, “Lent.”) In Dublin, the festival lasts for five days and adds about 60 million euros to the economy.


Kelley traces the boom of Irish-themed pubs throughout the world back to 1991, when the Irish Pub Company formed aiming for “the reproduction of “Irishness” on every continent”. The pubs IPCo installed in places as farflung as Dubai, he reports, weren’t so much exact copies of existing Irish pubs as Disney-fied distillations of “Irishness” (ie, “Irish music, traditional grub, and “bric-a-brac” such as reproductions of antique spinning wheels, cast irons, and flagons.”) — meaning that homey Irish pub in say, Cleveland, is probably about as authentically Irish as your neighborhood Olive Garden is Tuscan. The same profitable rebranding of “Irishness”, Kelley concludes, is what’s behind the new St. Patrick’s Day.

There’s nothing wrong with the evolution of festivals, and culture in general. We’re constantly tinkering with our traditions; that’s what keeps them fresh. So, party on Dublin. But if you go to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day this year, as you slurp the creamy foam from your first cool pint of Guinness, the transmogrification of this quaint religious holiday is good food for thought.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | March 16, 2007
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

2 Responses to “How “Irish” is Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day mega-party?”

  1. ourman Says:

    Great piece of writing and spot on.

    No one wants to be a killjoy and start complaining, but…

    Well there appears to be nothing behind this St Patrick’s day thing other than drinking. Why do you need an excuse to drink?

    And sure if you’re an Irishman far from home and you want to use the day to meet up and sink a few with your Irish mates then good on you.

    But like all festivals it’s the wannabes and the hangers on that are most annoying. People inventing ancestry or embarrassing themselves by talking of the craic and badly singing Irish songs.

    I’ve read before the opinion that if you are white then you are generically uncool – the best you can hope for is some Irish blood that’ll make you a little more interesting. I think that explains a lot of this Patrick’s day phenomenon.

    Oh and claiming Irish blood, particularly in the States has led to some ill-advised funding of some very very scary organisations.

    Anyway…Save me from Irish theme bars. In fact, save me from all theme bars and theme days and government and brewery-sanctioned parties.

    As for visiting Ireland to enjoy the festivities, as you have pointed out, they are a sham. And I can’t think of a worse time to be in Dublin.

  2. Dave Says:

    I spent 2 weeks in Ireland back in 1998, and I left the country a wannabe Irishman!

    I quickly learned, all the theme pubs in the States and every other country are a distant second to the real thing.

    And I’ve yet to taste a Guinness as delicious, thick, and heady as the ones coming out of the taps in Ireland.