Thanks to the advice of many friends of many nationalities, I set off to the Emerald Isle (also known as Ireland) for the St. Patrick’s Festival this past weekend. I was promised a weekend of great food, green, and of course, Guinness.
What the weekend delivered was great food, green everywhere, Guinness, and a whole lot of confusion and concern.
Essentially, the casual disorder, lack of attention to roadways and amount of loud foreigners was so prevalent that any decent, muted-voice Londoner who stands on the right side of the escalator would’ve been fighting back panic attacks.
Allow me a brief explanation.
The St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin is anything a well-meaning college student could ask for: fun, friendly and relatively cheap. It’s also (in a very “Irish” sense) very anti-British. It celebrates friendship, debauchery, and fun: a recipe for “risk-taking” to any bobby on the street.*
There is face painting all over town; live ‘traditional celtic’ music in pubs, cafes and chippy stands; Guinness and Jameson specials in most pubs; and, of course, too many cheap and ridiculous “Irish” souvenirs to count. Somehow, the atmosphere is actually infectious, in a non-cliche, jovial sort-of way. As one sign at the Guinness factory read: “On March 17, everyone is Irish.”
There is a carnaval along the Liffey River geared toward the younger set, pub specials geared toward adults, and (of course) the St. Patrick’s Day parade to Christchurch Cathedral geared toward everyone in the city that day.
Essentially, although college students have turned “Paddy’s Day” into a day of nonstop drinking and debauchery, Dublin has turned it into a celebration of heritage, community and fun.
Except for a couple of things.
First, I was astounded at the number of kids running amok. How can a 21-year-old college student make this assumption, you ask?
Simply by observing than most people running around were aged 14-19, which by most definitions, qualifies them as children. Except these children were most likely intoxicated and reeking havoc all over the city. Or, at least being disorderly to the extent that would make any Londoner highly nervous.
A majority of the teens were harmless enough – doing nothing more than sporting hotpants in the snow or smoking cigarettes a little too close to shop windows. Some kids, however, were passed out in doorways, splitting their heads open on the concrete or causing small-scale riots on pedestrian streets. I’d never seen such efficient ambulances or paramedics in one place at one time before.
I can’t pretend U.S. college students haven’t caused their share of terror or havoc – one only needs to watch the raw footage from the University of Dayton this weekend to find that college students are perfectly capable of debauchery and chaos within the United States.
It just struck me how young the Irish and visiting celebrators seemed. I wanted to as “Where are all of your parents!?’, but immediately realized that if the police weren’t that concerned, and the drinking age was 18, I might just be imagining the extreme youth of all the party-goers. I never did find out the average age of those roaming the streets, but accepted my aversion to it as growing up. Kind-of.
Second, I’m still confused by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. With a theme of “Great Things Happen When We Get Together,” there were more floats of mythical creatures and giant versions of laundry than any representations of non-Irish cultures or traditions.
Flying bathtubs and a fake arctic expedition? Check. Scottish bagpipes from the U.S.? Check. Leprechauns? Giant Four-Leaf Clovers? Not a chance.
Considering a couple hundred thousand spectators waited through the snow/rain for hours to see the parade, it was a tad disappointing.
Perhaps more confusing than the constant jumble of parade floats was the “pre-parade parade” or “People’s Parade,” which was a new addition for 2013.
This part of the parade was like that last Slutty Brownie you just decided to eat: great in theory, but a bit too much to handle in real life. The People’s Parade was devised by the St. Patrick’s Festival mastermind ‘The Gathering,” in which people from all over the world were invited to apply for a spot in the “People’s Parade.”
Quite a few memorable groups made the final cut, including a bunch of Texans sporting “Happy St. Paddy’s Day, Y’all!” t-shirts and some Brazilian samba dancers sporting almost no clothing at all. It wasn’t exactly what one expects to see from an Irish parade, although since it was my first St. Patrick’s Festival, I should have come in with fewer expectations.
The People’s Parade further solidified the hospitality and friendliness of the Irish people in Dublin, despite its inherent oddness. Even the Texans were welcome – and in these parts, that’s saying something.
The parade theme, along with the hundreds of thousands of people wandering around, gave the entire day a dream-like quality of something that just simply could not happen in your real life.
But I guess that’s the point of “Paddy’s Day” in Dublin: you aren’t supposed to be yourself. You’re supposed to be Irish.
Want to see more photos of the parade and general mayhem in Dublin? Check out pondhoppassport.wordpress.com!
* It’s worth noting this is an over-generalized stereotype of Londonders and British people, and not at all representative of the entire population of London.