A National Holiday in Ireland, St Patrick's Day began as an annual feast day in honor of the Patron Saint, Patrick,(Circa 385-461 AD), in the early 17th century. Usually celebrated on the 17th of March, it was primarily a feast and a holy day for the Roman Catholics in Ireland. Traditionally, families attended church services early in the day and followed up with a big feast throughout the day.
The day of the feast, or St. Patrick's Day, has been moved on occasions at the direction of the church authorities when the holiday falls during Holy Week. This has been done both in 1940 and as recent as 2008; a somewhat controversial decision. One can see from this that St Patrick's Day in Ireland has a more religious tone than the celebrations outside of Ireland, and as celebrations become more secular, more controversy has been generated around the nature of the celebrations.
An act of Parliament created the March 17th holiday in 1903. A law which required pubs to be closed on that day, was passed shortly after and was only repealed as late as the 1970's. So the custom of imbibing huge amounts of liquor on St Patrick's Day was by no means a custom in Ireland. The first St Patrick's Day parades were organized by Irish immigrants in the United States as early as the 18th century. It was not until 1931 that Dublin hosted the first St Patrick's Day parade in Ireland.
Much later in 1996, the first St Patrick's Day Festival was held on March 17th and has grown from a one day to a one week celebration. The festival theme has been introduced by the Irish government as a means to promote Ireland and its culture. But behind all the parades and festivals, St Patrick's Day celebration in Ireland remains primarily, a religious one.
Many government officials as well as representatives of the major political parties of Northern Island and the Republic of Ireland, attend ceremonies at home and as guests of other countries where St Patrick's Day is celebrated. The Irish Taoisigh (the head of the Government of Ireland)is present at special functions both in Ireland and abroad during the week long celebrations and has presented Shamrocks to the US President and House Speaker. It is common practice for the President of Ireland and the Taoiseach to be away from Ireland during their own festivities, celebrating the holiday in different US States, Hong Kong, South Africa and Japan, to name a few.
A visitor to Ireland would have many choices of where to celebrate and which activities to attend. The larger cities like Dublin, Cork and Galway all hold St Patrick's Day parades. In Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, where St Patrick is reported to have been buried, one of the largest St Patrick's Day celebrations is held, with some 2000 participants and 30,000 spectators.
In Dublin, the St Patrick's Day Festival is the official celebration of Ireland. Most of the festivities are offered free of charge and includes several carnivals, comedy, music and dance. The March 13th to 17th celebration attracts around 4,000 performers and in excess of one million participants.
In 2009, the St Patrick's Day Festival theme is "Sky's the Limit". The Festival in partnership with City Fusion (a group dedicated to promoting inter-cultural participation in the festival) will celebrate the cultural diversity of Dublin. Below is a sample of some of the activities for 2009 in Dublin, in addition to the usual parades and entertainment.
Conference of the Birds
In keeping with the "Sky's the Limit" theme, Conference of the Birds is a pageant created by several community groups. The pageant will tell the story about the value of participation, the power of imagination and enjoying the beauty around us.
It is expected that the 2009 Parade will be bigger and better than anywhere else in the world. The two hour carnival style parade will showcase many creative talents. Street theatre companies, international marching bands and ceremonial groups are only a few of the participants expected to captive onlookers.
As part of the St Patrick's Day festivities in Ireland, The Dubliner Magazine hosts a public Assembly for discussion, debate and passionate discourse. This is usually a lively discussion held on the eve of the celebration. For those who enjoy a good old fashion row, this is the place to be.
This is the festival's Irish Language celebration. Filled with events and activities for all ages including workshops, tours, traditional music, song and dance, the festival gives you an opportunity to experience St Patrick's Day festival in Irish.
The Laughter Lounge
What is a festival without laughter, lots of it? The Laughter Lounge had customers vote for their favorite comedian in 2008 from which a top 5 have been chosen. They will appear for 3 nights at the 2009 "Best of the Fest" feature at the St Patrick Day's festival.
Festival Fun Fair
This adrenaline pumping carnival is filled with thrills and near-spills, high-flying attractions, games and a 150 foot high jubilee wheel. The fun fair offers fun and excitement for St Patrick's Day revelers of all ages.
It there is a festival, there's got to be fireworks. The Dublin celebration makes sure their musical, explosive, and well choreographed fireworks display, over the River Suir, is a memorable one. But there is more. The show is headlined by one of the most exciting and energetic traditional acts in Dublin, Kila.
While some Christian leaders in Ireland have questioned the secularization of St Patrick's Day and would like to see it more as a church celebration, the Irish appear to have managed to do both. To the Irish in Ireland, St Patrick's Day is still regarded as a feast and a Holy Day and from all reports, the inclination to drink more on St Patrick's Day is not necessarily an integral part of the St Patrick's Day celebration in Ireland