Great Cities for St. Patrick’s Day

Author: Alecia Pirulis

The green Chicago River, from Marina Towers

The Chicago River dyed Green for St. Patrick’s Day (Photo credit: discopalace)

Saint Patrick was a fifth-century saint and national apostle of Ireland, but he didn’t start out there. Saint Patrick was actually born in Roman Britain, but when he was 16 years old he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave. Although he eventually escaped, he later returned to Ireland and is credited for bringing Christianity along with him. Saint Patrick died on March 17, 461.

While the shamrock can be traced back to Saint Patrick (he used it to explain the Holy Trinity to followers), the rest of what we associate with St. Patrick’s Day originated much later in the US: the parades, the green beer, and the celebrations. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday, usually observed with a feast. Pubs were traditionally closed on March 17 up until the 1970s. Today, however, St. Patrick’s Day is a major tourism draw for Ireland, which today includes concerts, parades, food, drinks, and even fireworks.

One of the first St. Patrick’s Day parades took place in 1878 in New York. Today, celebrations large and small take place in cities across the country. So, where are the best locations for St. Patrick’s Day? It depends on how you want your celebration: big, loud, and crowded or smaller and less famous.

Savannah, Georgia: St. Patrick’s Day is actually a two-week event in Savannah – they dye the fountain in Forsyth Park green and hold several ceremonies before holding the second-largest parade in the world. Every March, thousands crowd the streets of Savannah for the food, the fun, and the events. With such a huge celebration, you might think Savannah has a large Irish population, right? Well, no – there are fewer than six percent who claim an Irish heritage. But the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held here in 1813, and it becomes more grand every year. If you don’t mind a bit of a crowd, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah is a must-see.

Chicago, Illinois: If you haven’t seen the Chicago River dyed to a sparkling shade of emerald green, put this on your must-do list. The city has done this every year for more than 40 years, and it is incredible. Other cities have tried to recreate this vivid wonder, but so far, only Chicago has been able to pull it off. (Their method is top-secret but chemists have tested the formula and it has been proven safe for the environment.) In addition to the beautiful green river, Chicago holds two parades.

Boston, Massachusetts: Irish band concerts, a parade that attracts over 600,000, the Gaelic Gourmet Gala, bars serving pints of ale – it is no wonder that Boston attracts around 850,000 people during St. Patrick’s Day. Just over 15 percent of Boston’s population is Irish, and the celebration here begins at least a week before St. Patrick’s Day and continues until the beer is gone and the last jig is danced – often days later.

If the three powerhouse cities for St. Patrick’s Day are a little too much for you, there are some great cities that keep their celebrating just a little more low-key, but you are guaranteed to have just as much fun (if not more, since it is less crowded).

Charlottesville, Virginia: The city of Charlottesville doesn’t dye anything green and they don’t put on a big parade, but this historic city has an event that is well worth the visit: Slainte to St. Patrick’s Day, which is held at Trump Winery. The celebration includes live music, plenty of wine, and a traditional Irish meal of cheddar soup and soda bread. And while you are in Charlottesville, be sure to take a look around – the city was founded in 1762 and was home to both Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. Historic locations in Charlottesville include Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, both of which are World Heritage Sites.

Hot Springs, Arkansas: Do you consider yourself a fan of the slightly quirky? If so, then you’ll love the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, now in its 10th year. Bagpipes, Irish Elvis impersonators (no joke), leprechauns, marching bands, and unusual floats define this event. Other festivities include the Blarney Stone Kissing Contest and a post-parade concert. If you have a short attention span, this parade really is short – it takes place on Bridge Street, which is only 98 feet long. To get an idea of how this parade will go, this year’s grand marshals are actually returning grand marshals, Bo Derek and John Corbett. Past grand marshals include John Ratzenberger, Mario Lopez, and Pauley Shore.

Dublin, Georgia: You may be thinking, “Wait – there’s a Dublin, Georgia?” There is, and they are in the middle of a month-long St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Events include the Littlest Leprechaun Contest, the Shamrock Invitational Band Festival, the St. Patrick’s Dog Walk and Costume Contest, Baby Erin Go Braugh, the Shamrock Invitational Golf Tournament, the Leprechaun Contest, a Night of Irish Food and Music, the St. Patrick’s Arts and Crafts Festival, a Leprechaun Road Race …. The events are jam-packed from the middle of February until the end of March, when the Irish Balloon Festival and Carnival is held. Dublin is located about halfway between Macon and Savannah, roughly a little over an hour from each.

Since it is nearly spring, St. Patrick’s Day is our first opportunity to shake off the winter blues and enjoy a day of fresh air and sunshine, parades, great food, and yes – green beer. Even if your city doesn’t have a major celebration, some of the smaller cities across the country put on a good show, too! What does your city do for St. Patrick’s Day? Share it with us on Facebook!