St. Patrick’s Day Activities for an Authentic Holiday
When most people think of St. Patrick's Day activities, they conjure a vision of green beer, corned beef, and raucous parades. But surprisingly, those customs are nearly all American-made and would look a little foreign in Ireland.
So, to find things to do on St. Patrick’s Day that are a little more authentic, we turned to local expert expats. Most of our experts are Ireland-born, so they can give us the lowdown on a truly Irish St. Patrick’s Day celebration—one that’s built on a sturdy foundation of traditional beer, hearty food, and cultural activities.
What To See & Do
Wondering what to do on St. Patrick’s Day? Parades and Irish festivals can be fun, there’s no denying it (especially when you’re planning a St. Patrick’s Day for kids). But the holiday can also be the perfect chance to learn about Ireland’s cultural heritage.
Hunt Down an Irish Pub
Sure, most towns have a pub with an Irish-sounding name. But do your best to find a truly authentic one. How will you know? Besides listening for the bartender’s Irish brogue, check to see if there are multiple Irish beers on the menu (and multiple Irish whiskeys).
“[The Irish pub] is an extension of people’s own homes.”
Simon Kearney, O’Hare’s Pub and Restaurant
And it should feel cozy—Irish pubs are traditionally a community mainstay, and a gathering place to catch up with friends and neighbors. So the music shouldn’t be too loud for good conversation.
Listen to Live Music
If you’ve found a good Irish pub, you’re probably already a step ahead on this one. Sinead McHugh, of Sheila Tully Academy of Irish Dance, says that smaller, more authentic pubs are your best bet for happening upon live music—one of the truly Irish St. Patrick’s Day activities you could experience. (You’ll recognize the authentic stuff by its flutes, pipes, fiddles, and bodhrán drums.)
Traditional music is considered one of Ireland’s great cultural activities, along with dancing, poetry, and storytelling. Says Patrick Breslin of The Celtic Knot Club: “The story of the ancient culture of Ireland has been kept alive through all of these art forms.”
Dance a Jig
Irish dance has been around for centuries, and so taking in a show is a great way to embrace an authentic St. Patrick’s Day. As the mother of an Irish dancer, Sinead McHugh is an expert on the subject, and spends a lot of her time around those ringleted quick-steppers. She suggests finding a show that invites anyone to join in: “We’ve even had a granddad who said he ‘couldn’t remember the jig’ try!”
What To Drink
Step away from the green beer. The drink is ubiquitous at every bar’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, but try quenching your thirst in a more authentically Irish way.
Pull a Pint of Guinness
It’s hard to find a more Irish St. Patrick’s Day activity than drinking a Guinness. The dark beer has been brewed and enjoyed in Ireland since 1759. Need another excuse to trade in your green beer? A 12-ounce serving of Guinness is going to cost you just 125 calories. That’s only 15 more than a Bud Light, and those are 15 very authentic calories.
“Guinness is the only drink worth talking about when it comes to Paddy’s Day.”
Sip on an Irish Whiskey
Nothing will make you feel more like a true Irishman or -woman than ordering a good sipping Irish whiskey. Jameson, Bushmills, Tullamore DEW are all mainstays that will serve you well. Just keep an eye out for that extra e—Ireland produces whiskey, Scotland produces whisky.
Warm Up with an Irish Coffee
If St. Patrick’s Day weather takes a turn for the chilly, an Irish coffee is a surefire way to warm you to the bones. A mixture of hot coffee, whiskey, and sugar is topped with thick cream. And don’t even think about stirring it—the cream floats at the top of the drink, and you should drink the coffee straight through it.
What To Eat
Corned beef and cabbage started out as a substitute for the more traditional bacon and potatoes, a dish favored by Irish-American immigrants in the 19th century. It’s since become a staple for St. Patrick’s Day food, but consider branching out to another option when dining out.
Sit Down for Breakfast
Any Irish pub worth its salt will have a full Irish breakfast on the menu, most likely served all day. On the lineup: bangers (sausages), rashers (bacon), bachelor beans, eggs, and fresh brown bread with homemade butter.
A Different Take on Potatoes
Potatoes might be synonymous with Irish cuisine, but for a less common take on St. Patrick’s Day food, try boxty. It’s an Irish potato pancake with a unique texture: it’s made with both finely grated and mashed potatoes. Part hash brown, part pancake, 100% authentic.
Visit the Chipper
You might associate fish and chips with the English, but chippers (or fish and chips shops) are just as popular in Ireland. And there’s a surprising back story: legend has it that an Italian immigrant named Giuseppe Cervi was the first to bring fish and chips to the Emerald Isle. Chippers might not be as commonplace in the US, but you can still find a good approximation on most Irish pub menus.
“There are very few places that do a very, very light fish and chips.”
Stephanie McDaniel is a political theorist-turned-novelist from South Carolina. On the rare occasion she’s not writing, she spends her time folk dancing, singing, and adding sea salt to Lake Michigan.