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Around the world on St Patrick’s Day

15 March 2018

Every year, on the 17th March, Irish citizens and descendants from all around the world gather to honour St Patrick, arguably the most celebrated patron saint in the western world. Said to have been born in Britain in the fifth century, this icon of Irish faith and lore is famed for converting the pagans of Ireland, using a shamrock to display the holy trinity of God. One of Saint Patrick's most famous feats is, of course, banishing all of the snakes from Ireland. Even though naturalists today have since said that they don't think there were ever any snakes in Ireland (making St Patrick's job a bit easier), this is a legend that has certainly stood the test of time.

Of course, St Patrick's Day isn't just celebrated in Ireland itself. No, this world famous day is also enjoyed by people internationally, mainly by those who can trace their ancestry back to the Emerald Isle. This blog is all about how the different nations with ties to Ireland around the world celebrate the day.

We're going to start out of this world. Technically, we're going to start a fair few miles off of the surface of it, but the St Patrick's Day celebrations on board the International Space Station are too wonderful not to include. Either way, St Patrick's Day has been celebrated on board the International Space Station by Irish-American astronaut Catherine Coleman, as well as Scottish-Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

They actually did it in quite a beautifully classy way, with Catherine Coleman playing a flute that belonged to Irish musician and 'Chieftain' Matt Molloy as well as a tin whistle owned by fellow 'Chieftains' bandmate Paddy Moloney, in a performance which was named 'The Chieftains in Orbit'. Chris Hadfield celebrated the day by sharing a rather breathtaking picture of Ireland from space and, of course, dressing in the traditional green clothing of the country.

Going to another obscure place to celebrate St Patrick's Day, we head over to the 'Emerald Isle' of the Caribbean, Montserrat. As is the case with most places that celebrate the holiday, Montserrat became known in the 17th century as an escape from Oliver Cromwell for Irish Catholics. Here, they celebrate St Patrick's Day with a charming mixture of both Irish and African celebrations, with events like a calypso competition, traditional food, shamrocks, and (of course) Guinness. This day also marks a failed uprising which occurred in 1768, making the day all that more poignant for the residents of this gloriously multicultural island.

Next, we come to America. If you ever want something done on an enormous scale, do it in America. Celebrated throughout the land due to the enormous amount of Irish descendants, America does St Patrick's Day on another level. In Chicago, the festivities are kicked off by dying the entirety of the Chicago River an incredibly vibrant green (in an environmentally safe way that is supported by the local plumbers union). The White House also gets in on the green action, with the fountain turning a lovely emerald shade as well.

New Orleans is one of the cities in the U.S.A. that boasts of the earliest known celebrations of St Patrick's Day, as this was the port town in which many Irish people arrived during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In typical New Orleans style, it is marked with a parade, Mardi-Gras style floats, and also a food fight - which isn't traditionally a New Orleans thing, but it is fun.

The oldest parade in America (starting in 1792), and actually the largest parade in the world is, however, the New York parade. As one of the centres with the highest number of Irish immigrants, this is no surprise, and the average number of people to march in the parade is around 150,000. This parade is led by the 69th Infantry Regiment, which, historically, is the Irish heritage unit. This has given them the nickname of the 'Fighting Irish'.

Finally, saving the best 'til last, we have the celebrations in the 'Emerald Isle' itself. Ireland is both the spiritual and actual home of St Patrick, so it makes sense that the celebrations here are the most varied, the most traditional, and the most beloved celebrations of the saint in the world. Although it is traditionally a feast day, due to the restrictions of Holy Week (which St Patrick's Day occasionally falls under), feasts and some of the wilder traditions of the day can sometimes be more subdued. One of the most famous religious celebrations of St Patrick takes place in Downpatrick, which is where the eponymous man is said to be buried.

In Dublin, the day of celebration is stretched to a week, with music festivals, Irish Beer & Whisky Festivals, street performers, and boat races all taking place on the days surrounding the world-famous parade on March 17th. Belfast in the north also makes a fabulous spectacle of the day, with a concert and carnival ensuring that the festivities enthral and delight.