Taking in a Green New York City


A pipe band marches up Fifth Avenue during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

From Dublin to Sydney, and China to New York City, the Irish diaspora and its cultural traces are found in every corner of the world. Go to any of the globe’s major cities and there will most likely be an Irish pub or two neatly hidden down a side street, usually crammed with tourists and focused on making a more than decent profit on extortionately-priced Guinness.

Of course, the one day of the year when everyone is Irish, no matter how tenuous their links to the country may be, is St Patrick’s Day, a holiday perhaps renowned more for its encouragement of heavy drinking than for its historic celebration of the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. Nonetheless, last Saturday presented a perfect opportunity for New Yorkers to dress up in green and to spend the day bar hopping, as well as witnessing the world’s most famous St. Patrick’s Day parade that makes its way up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

In the United Kingdom, St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty big deal as well. With an Irish community somewhat comparable to New York City, and the close proximity to Ireland itself, the holiday is celebrated in a fairly comparable manner. However, the feel on the streets of London is different to that in Manhattan. The geographical sprawl of the British capital means that a centralized parade in the same manner as that in NYC is difficult to achieve, and so the party mood is spread evenly throughout the city, thereby diminishing the unified and communal atmosphere ensured through celebration in this part of the world.

The parade itself was impressive as always, and a huge turnout only enhanced the celebratory atmosphere. The prominence of shamrocks and the color green was resonant of NYC’s St. Patrick’s Day parade one thinks of when they consider its representation in popular culture, so the day certainly scored highly in terms of authenticity.

In terms of bars and alcohol consumption, the day is exactly what a visitor to the city would expect. Green beer and Guinness on tap in every bar, and almost the entirety of NYC’s waiters and bartenders dressed up in green. While excessive drinking was prevalent, safety was obviously high up on the city’s agenda, with an enhanced NYPD presence ensuring the continued well-being of the revelers.

The significance of the festivities was even commented upon by New York City, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who visited the city during the holiday.

“The Irish are found in every borough, every corner of New York,” Kenny said at an official function. “In previous generations, they came heartbroken and hungry, in search of new life, new hope; today they come in search of opportunity to work in finance, fashion and film.”

This remark on the inextricable historical link between Ireland and the U.S. served to add a little poignancy to what many may forget is a day that has a deep cultural and historic meaning.

Ultimately, the day was a huge success. The opportunity to experience an authentic St. Patrick’s Day in a different part of the world than I normally would was quite an experience, and one that I am thankful for. Like so many of the things I have down while here at St. John’s on my year abroad, it was an experience that I’ll never forget.

Harry Saunders is an international student from London, England.