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It’s More Than Guinness: A Look at a Northern Ireland St. Patrick’s Day

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Written by Joyelle Ronan

Every March 17, I’d wake up to find that “leprechauns” had left candy in the shoes that I had put outside my room the night before. I would then go to school decked out in green and my dad would make corned beef and cabbage for dinner. As I grew up, I realized that adults spend St. Paddy’s Day a bit differently, typically by downing green beer at a pub. Regardless of how it’s celebrated, I’ve loved the holiday my entire life. It’s the one day of the year when I celebrate my Irish pride. I’ve always wondered how St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Ireland as opposed to America. I’ve come to learn that it’s much different than four leaf clovers and shamrock shakes I’ve always known.

Grace Boyle is an International student here at Roanoke College. She is from Belfast, Northern Ireland and gave me some insight into how she and her friends celebrate the day. “Not everything is green and ‘kiss me, I’m Irish’,” Grace told me. “We drink, climb a mountain, and sing traditional Irish songs,” She responded when I asked about her own St. Patrick’s Day traditions. True to American celebrations, alcohol is definitely consumed, it just isn’t green.

While both countries drink for Irish pride, the people Northern Ireland sing in their native language about their oppression. One of the popular phrases used in Northern Ireland is “tiocfaidh ár lá.” This means “our day will come” and is used as a popular slogan to support Northern Ireland one day reuniting with the country of Ireland. Grace and her friends also like to hike Slemish Mountain, the first known Irish home of St. Patrick himself.

I was curious about how Grace felt regarding the commercialized way Americans spend St. Patrick’s day. Grace told me that because a lot of people from Boston and the Northeast celebrate passed down Irish traditions, she isn’t offended by America’s interpretation of the holiday. However, on the topic on cultural sensitivity, she states that Americans don’t understand how it’s celebrated in Ireland because it’s treated much more traditionally, “St. Patrick was our patron saint, he drove the snakes out of Ireland, he brought Christianity to Ireland and that’s how we interpret and remember it.”

This year, Grace plans to spend the day before St. Patrick’s Day at the Salem parade where her friend is playing in one of the bands. On March 17, she wants to get a group of friends together to go hiking and watch Derry Girls, a show on Netflix that focuses on a group of girls growing up in Northern Ireland in the 1990’s. Grace recommends this show if you’re looking to learn more about in life Northern Ireland. Talking to Grace has made me want to learn more about Northern Ireland and my own Irish culture. For future St. Patrick’s Days, I want to ditch the green decorations and corned beef and instead go for a traditional Irish stew and an episode of Derry Girls.