I’m not a fan of crowds. Yet despite this, I’ve celebrated New Year’s Eve in Times Square and attended Oktoberfest in Munich. There’s really no way to partake in these once-in-a-lifetime events without enduring hordes of people, so it’s just something you have to put up with for the sake of the experience. New Year’s Eve in the heart of New York City turned out to be a great experience, though one I’d never do again. I was a little hesitant about going to the official Oktoberfest in Germany, but it turned out to be a memorable event that I’d actually consider attending again in the future! The St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, however, is one of those events I’m glad I experienced in my lifetime, but I never need to do it again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I wouldn’t recommend it to others, but I’d like to share my experience with you, so that you can make an informed decision about spending St Patrick’s Day in Dublin, Ireland.
To be fair, we only experienced the St Patrick’s Day Parade, a very small portion of the entire 4-day festival. The St Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin includes a Celtic Dance Festival (Festival Céilí), Festival Treasure Hunt, Carnival (Festival Big Day Out), 5k Race, and several live music events throughout the city. Because Sam and I aren’t too keen on crowds, we decided that one day in the capital city of Ireland during its most festive time of the year would be enough. We only started planning our trip to Ireland about 2-3 months ahead of our scheduled arrival, so when the time came to book lodging, prices in the city center were through the roof. We ended up renting a private room through AirBnB just outside of the city and taking a train in for the day’s events.
Waiting for the St Patrick’s Day Parade to Start
Because we weren’t sure quite what to expect, we got an early start on the day! Assuming the trains would be crowded and people would start queuing for the parade hours before its commencement, we didn’t want to travel all the way to Dublin to not be front and center for the parade. The Dublin parade route is almost 2 miles (>3 km) long. It starts at Parnell Square and wraps up just beyond St Patrick’s Cathedral on Patrick’s Street. 4,500 barriers line the route to corral the 500,000 spectators who gather to take part in this annual tradition. We secured our front row spot at the corner of Westmoreland Street and College Street and looked down at our watches- 2.5 hours to go. As time went on, the crowd closed in around us and our once-comfortable location became jam-packed with hundreds of visitors, several of whom were smoking… constantly. The smell of cigarette smoke is downright offensive if you’re not used to being around it, so that didn’t exactly help us feel at ease waiting for the parade to begin. Keep in mind, even though the parade had a set start time, we were quite a ways from Parnell Street, which would mean it would still be a while for the parade to get to where we were standing.
Finally, our waiting came to an end! After approximately 3 hours of waiting, Saint Patrick himself (ok, well a St Patrick impersonator) came to greet the half a million people lining the streets of Dublin. Joanne O’Riordan, a disabled rights activist, born without arms of legs, served as the cheery Grand Marshall of the 2016 parade. Besides the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band and another bagpipe band from Pennsylvania, there were really no other ‘Irish’ bands or traditional Irish performances.
Much of the parade was made up of high school and college marching bands, primarily from the United States. There was even a high school there that’s located down the street from where we grew up in Florida! Turns out it is a huge honor to be invited to come and perform in the Dublin St Patrick’s Day Parade, but as American visitors, we were hoping for a little more Irish flare in Dublin. At least one troupe of Irish dancers would’ve been nice. Accompanying the marching bands were various color guard groups who proudly twirled their flags to the beat of the music.
Besides the marching bands and flag corps, the rest of the parade was made up of colorful and imaginative floats following the celebration’s theme Imagine If. It was the final chapter in a 3-year theme of Past (2014), Present (2015), and Future (2016). The vibrant costumes ranged from funky and unique to downright bizarre, and to be honest, it was pretty delightful! I don’t want to give the impression that we completely disliked the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. Again, it was the only aspect of the 4-day festival that we participated in and it was just a little more ‘Americanized’ than we were expecting. We were simply hoping for more local and traditional song and dance, but I guess that’s the focus of the Celtic Dance Festival that we unfortunately missed out on.
Pictures of the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin, Ireland
After the parade, half a million people decked out in green are released into the streets of Dublin. Everyone begins to make their way into the nearby pubs and restaurants to continue the festivities…
… and that’s when the St Paddy’s Day celebrations really begin! Restaurants and pubs are packed to the gills. Live music and bag pipe jam sessions take place in various pubs across the city and the atmosphere becomes quite electric! On average, 5.5 million pints of Guinness are consumed each day around the world. On St Patrick’s Day, that number rises to 13 million pints and I would guess that half of that consumption takes place in Dublin! If you plan on visiting the Guinness Storehouse while in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day, be prepared… it’s their busiest day of the year!
Of the 500,000 people that pack the streets of Dublin on St Patrick’s Day, over 100,000 come in from overseas for the celebration. For many, it is their first visit to Ireland, and because of this, St Patrick’s Day officially kicks off the ever-expanding tourist season in Ireland! You see, we didn’t take off as soon as March 17 ended; we stuck around for another 3 weeks exploring the absolutely beautiful Emerald Isle. And this was our second visit! (If you’re planning your own trip to Ireland, please check out our plethora of Ireland articles.) All said and done, we don’t want to give you the impression that we completely despised spending St Patrick’s Day in Dublin. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that we’re grateful we had the opportunity to experience. Have a look at our video capture of the parade in Dublin:
In hindsight, we simply wished we would’ve skipped the big commercialized celebration for more of an authentic small Irish town celebration. So… we’re going to give it another go! We’re heading back to Ireland again for St Patrick’s Day 2017! We’re not quite sure where exactly we’ll be on March 17, so we’re open to some small town suggestions! It’ll be awesome to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland for a second year in a row! We’ll be able to compare the differences between the big time celebration in Dublin and a small town celebration elsewhere in the country, so stay tuned for that follow-up! We’ll spend an entire month exploring even more of Ireland (and Northern Ireland) and we do hope that you’ll follow along! Sláinte!