Celebrating the Emerald Isle

Published: 13 Mar 2012 14:450 comments

THINK of leaping leprechauns, folk music and shamrocks and St Patrick's Day is often the first thing that springs to mind. But for those who are truly dedicated to the popular Irish holiday, there's more to the celebrations than donning something green, sampling tasty tipples or spouting a limerick or two.

Honoured annually on March 17 by those of Irish descent, at its core St Paddy's is a chance to celebrate Ireland's religious roots.

Traditionally the holiday came about as a way to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland and the arrival of Christianity there. Observed by the Catholic Church, Church of Ireland, Eastern Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church, the day was generally characterised as a time to attend church services and wear blue (not green!) attire.

However, during the 17th century, the celebrations were transformed into an official day of feasting - proving that Irish cuisine goes further than just potatoes and oats. Lamb stews, hearty shortcrust pies and smoked Irish wild salmon have helped to lay waste misconceptions that soda bread and potato cakes are the only options for a decent St Paddy's meal. Nowadays, like most saints' days throughout the UK and Ireland, the religious connotations of St Patrick's Day have become somewhat diluted and instead it is seen as more of an opportunity to celebrate the richness and the quirks of the Emerald Isle rather than the history of the holiday.

From Riverdance to four-leaf clover, cultures worldwide celebrate the luck of the Irish in abundance, laying on parties, parades and festivals in aid of the annual holiday.

Right at the heart of Irish culture is Dublin, a city which pays tribute year-on-year by hosting the St Patrick's Festival - a four day gala that incorporates traditional dance, street theatre and a vibrant, spectacular parade which attracts over 85,000 visitors.

In England the Mayor's St Patrick's Day parade and festival takes place on Sunday, March 18, and every year proves to be one of London's liveliest celebrations. It goes much further than encouraging visitors to grab a pint of Guinness and showcases the best Irish food, dance and music, thus transforming this popular holiday into a true celebration of Gaelic culture.

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