St. Patrick’s Day: An American Influence on an Irish Celebration

Maegan Lovell is a student at Washington State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Dublin, Ireland.


If you close your eyes and picture Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, chances are you are thinking of leprechauns and a pot o’ gold. The truth of it is that American traditions have actually played a large role in the development of the modern celebration of Saint Patrick in Ireland. What was once a small religious observation has become a vast tourist attraction in metropolitan Ireland.

Growing up, St. Patrick’s Day in my house meant we wore green and ate corned beef and cabbage. Americans have big St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all over the country, from San Diego to Boston, marked by massive parades and celebrations. Some cities even turn large monuments green for the day!

The United States and Ireland both celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but for years that meant very different things. In recent years, the Irish have embraced the large celebrations in their own country, and it has become a tourist attraction for people all over the world. According to many Irish locals, they have essentially ‘Americanized’ an Irish religious celebration.

Remembering Saint Patrick

The Irish celebration of Saint Patrick was once a quiet celebration commemorating the very real historical figure who is thought to have brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. Up until the early 1800s, that just meant attending church on March 17, the day St. Patrick is believed to have died.

Dublin Parade on St. Paddy's Day
Dublin Parade on St. Paddy’s Day


Irish soldiers and immigrants used March 17 to celebrate their heritage when they came to the United States. In parts of the country where there are large Irish populations, the celebrations grew. Over time, they developed into large scale celebrations where everyone – even the non-Irish people – could participate.

In Ireland, the tourist industry caught wind of this, and the first St. Patrick’s day parade was organized around 1975, almost 100 years after the United States! Make no mistake, the St. Patrick’s Day parades are purely an American phenomenon adopted by the Irish.


How Dublin Celebrates

Living in Dublin is generally a quiet and calm existence. As Ireland’s capital and largest city, one wouldn’t think so, but it has a small hometown feel for most of the year. The week before March 17 is an entirely different story. The city comes to life with green, orange and white, tourists seems to come out of the woodwork, and seeing men dressed in green suits and red beards becomes a lot more common. A large parade through the city centre takes place mid-morning, and thousands of people gather together to celebrate.

Even though the modern celebration is only a modern adaptation and is still evolving, it has become a wonderful way for the Irish to celebrate their heritage and bring awareness to their wonderful little country. So whether you celebrate state-side or on the Emerald Isle, remember that everyone is Irish on March 17th.

Guinness Storehouse
Guinness Storehouse

The world awaits…discover it.


Leave a Reply