Londoners need little excuse for a knees-up and, with 77% of us claiming some Irish ancestry, St Patrick’s Day is as good a reason as any. But if you’re looking for a deeper connection to your Irish roots than a night on the black stuff, read on.
St Patrick’s Day Parade
The St Patrick's day parade on Sunday 16 March will see 100,000 spectators lining Piccadilly and Whitehall and congregating in Trafalgar Square for an open-air concert. Now in its 13th year, the theme of this year’s event is World of Dance. The main stage will see performances from The Commitments, Once The Musical and the London Harp Orchestra. If you're worried it isn’t Irish enough, Riverdance will close the show.
The London Irish Centre in Camden Square has been serving London’s Irish community and their friends for 60 years. This year, it’ll be running the ever-popular St Patrick’s Day Party. Featuring live traditional and contemporary Irish music — including headline act CrossHarbour — this is an authentic experience, not to be missed.
Not to be outdone, the Irish Cultural Centre hosts a comedy fundraiser in Hammersmith featuring Father Ted tribute act Ted & Co. Enjoy traditional music, Irish stew with colcannon and top comedy. Funds raised from ticket sales will go to supporting the Centre’s work in the local community.
St Patrick’s Day is a religious festival after all (the clue is in the title). So where can you go for spiritual fulfilment? St Patrick's Church on Soho Square is an obvious choice. Established in 1791 by a Franciscan friar for the benefit of the destitute Irish immigrants living nearby, it’s the oldest Roman Catholic mission in England dedicated to St Patrick. The beautiful Italianate building is worth a visit at any time of year (even for non-believers).
Westminster Cathedral also has a strong Irish connection. Off the west aisle can be found the chapel of St Patrick and the saints of Ireland. It's got Celtic decorations and marble from Cork and Connemara. Shamrocks, used by St Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity, feature throughout the building’s design. You can see all of this and pay your respects at their St Patrick’s night party on 15 March, featuring music from Black Velvet, poetry, Irish dancing and even more stew.
There’s not a huge difference between British and Irish cuisine, but emigres to London might hanker for a few brands, such as Tayto’s Crisps, Chef Sauce and Barry’s Tea. If you’re hosting your own St Patrick’s night party, check out Mandy’s Irish Shop (branches in Willesden Green and Tooting), or The Irish Shop on Lordship Lane, Dulwich, for essential provisions.
St Patrick's Day will no doubt see most London pubs dusting off the diddly-diddly CD to get their patrons in the mood. But if you’re looking for the authentic Irish music experience, you won’t have to travel far. Try the Auld Shillelagh in Stoke Newington, the Sir Colin Campbell in Kilburn or the Blythe Hill Tavern in Catford for live music and great craic.
If your kids are musical and you think they might have what it takes to become the next Enya, Bono or Sinead O’Connor, the London Irish Music School runs lessons in Brent and Harrow. The kids all start with the tin whistle (it beats the recorder in our book), but have the chance to move on to the banjo, fiddle and even the harp. Top performers from the School will be the opening act on the main stage in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 16 March.
A pint of Guinness contains 210 calories, so if you are planning on celebrating St Patrick’s Day the traditional way, you might want to get some exercise to burn it off. Instead of the gym, why not try something different at the London Gaelic Athletic Association? It runs Gaelic football (including women’s teams) and hurling matches at its training ground in Ruislip.
By Rob Kidd