‘The Gathering’ and ‘The People’s Parade’ give an added boost to St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin

By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR

The St. Patrick Centre: Inside the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.  One of the many interesting interactive displays at the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. The Centre is about 2 1/2 hours from Dublin.

Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration is always extraordinary and lasts for much longer than just a day. But as spectacular as the annual festival always is, this year’s event promises to be the biggest and best yet thanks to the tourist industry’s massive global promotion, “The Gathering Ireland 2013.”

The Dublin festival runs from March 14 to 18 and one of the many interesting new attractions this year is The People’s Parade, which will precede the annual parade. As many as 8,000 visitors have been invited to fill out applications and march on the 17th along a 2.5 km (a little over a mile) route through Dublin’s streets. If you’d like to be included in The People’s Parade, an application form is available on the website (stpatricksfestival.ie)

The regular parade promises to be especially spectacular this year with performances by high school and university marching bands from at least 12 US states as well as Dublin, Canada, Germany, Italy, and more. Included is a band from the New York Fire Department that will perform in the NYC parade, jump on a plane, arrive in Dublin in the early morning hours of St. Patrick’s Day, rehearse with their Irish counterparts, and then join the parade.

The Dublin Festival will be a week filled with assorted music and street performances, a road race, family fun fairs, a treasure hunt, and more.

Of particular interest for visitors during that week will be guided walks with a Dublin historian who will focus on St. Patrick and the Dublin of Patrick’s day (385 to 461 A.D.) The tours last a little over 2 hours and will include Christ Church and St. Patrick’s as well as interesting places that many tourists never see.

For more information on all the St. Patrick’s Festival events in Dublin, visit the website at: stpatricksfestival.ie


According to The Irish Times, Minister for Tourism Leo Varadkar recently launched the largest global St. Patrick’s Day promotional drive in the history of the country.

If you can believe it, cash-strapped Ireland will spend 35,000 euros on a “Global Greening” that will shine green lights March 17 on dozens of the world’s major landmarks, including the Pyramids of Giza, the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the “Welcome” sign in Las Vegas, and the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. In addition, Dublin landmarks that will be “greened” include the Irish Architectural Archive, The Gibson Hotel, O’Connell Tower at Glasnevin Cemetery, The Odeon Bar, The Custom House, Convention Centre, The Mansion House, Dublin City Council Building, and Palace Street.

Perhaps we’re a bit “jaded” but this does seem somewhat over-the-top and a long way from the days when the Irish celebrated March 17 in Dublin with a live shamrock in their lapels or pinned to their coats, attendance at Mass, a viewing of the parade, then lunch with the family. However, tourism officials say this Global Greening initiative returned five million euros to the country last year and they are expecting to at least double that this year. We wonder if President Obama, with his Irish roots in Moneygall, Co. Offaly, will light the White House green on March 17?

The Times also reported that Tourism Ireland, as part of the genealogy television show “Who Do You Think You Are,” traced the ancestry of Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, to Ireland! All of this hoopla has been created by a Tourism Ireland promotion dubbed “The Gathering,” which is reportedly “on target” so far with passenger numbers at Dublin Airport up three percent in January compared with last year. The Gathering is designed to bring an additional 325,000 visitors to Ireland this year, which would generate some 170 million euros for the economy, they say.

Last September, Michael Ring, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, announced a partnership between “The Gathering Ireland 2013” and “Ireland Reaching Out” that is designed to enhance tourist numbers.

Ireland Reaching Out (Ireland XO) works with parishes across the country to help people trace their roots to specific Irish parishes. The Ireland XO website (irelandxo.com) is working to provide a profile for every parish and is currently identifying and training volunteers in local parishes there who will guide returning members of the diaspora to places of interest, including family homesteads, gravestones or land connected with their families. You can leave queries on the website and receive a response from local, trained volunteers, who can help link you with an ancestral home.

For further information on The Gathering Ireland 2013 or for information on how to plan your own Gathering, log on to gatheringireland.com.


You can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day wherever you are, but if you happen to be in Ireland this month, you could scarcely find a better place to learn about the patron saint than at the St. Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down. It is the world’s only permanent exhibit dedicated to telling the story of Ireland’s patron saint.

The Ego Patricius Exhibition at the Centre is an interactive interpretive experience that explores in a fun and fascinating way the saint’s story as well as the impact of Irish missionaries on Dark Ages Europe. The Centre also has a wonderful restaurant, extensive craft and gift shop, conference facilities, a tourist information center, and it often features special exhibits in the art gallery. There are many well-known artists in Northern Ireland, including one of my favorites, Gail Kelly, who holds an M.F.A. from Louisiana State University here, returned home in 1992 and now trades as Algan Arts. We have bought many of her prints and cards over the years.
Inside the St. Patrick CentreInside the St. Patrick Centre
While you’re at the St. Patrick Centre, be sure to visit Patrick’s grave at the lovely Down Cathedral next door and stop by the Down County Museum in town. Downpatrick has planned many events and activities to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Details are available on the Northern Ireland Tourism site: discovernorthernireland.com.


A group in Milwaukee that is associated with the St. Patrick Centre is planning a trip to Northern Ireland and the Republic from Oct. 4-13 called “The Legacy of St. Patrick Tour of Ireland.” The group, called Friends of St. Patrick, have designed the tour to include hidden and legendary sites, meetings with politicians, visits to Belfast’s Titanic Centre, attractions in Galway and Dublin and much more. Details are on the Centre’s website (saintpatrickcentre.com) or you may email Dr. Tim Campbell, director, (director@saintpatrickcentre.com) or call Jane Anderson here at 414-405-1118 for more.

Because of the connection with Milwaukee and the Friends group, Dr. Campbell and many other representatives of Ireland’s counties and attractions often visit the Milwaukee Irish Fest in August every year. I’ve attended several times and it is an amazing festival. Nearly every imaginable Irish tourist group is there and it’s a long and delightful weekend of music, food, Irish products and fun. If you have an opportunity to go, it’s well worth it.


The Northern Ireland Tourist Board has created a St. Patrick’s Trail (discovernorthernireland.com/stpatrick) that is fun to explore with all kinds of landmarks ranging from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, to Bagenal’s Castle in Newry, Struell Wells in Downpatrick, Bangor Abbey, and more. Northern Ireland is really a lovely part of the island and the gardens at some of the manor homes are worth a trip on their own. There’s a lot to see there, but do remember that the monetary unit is the pound Sterling and not the euro.

While you’re in the North, Bushmills Inn in Bushmills, Co. Antrim, is a lovely place to stay – and has a wonderful restaurant. Be sure to take the Bushmills’ distillery tour the next day and carry on to visit other beautiful and interesting Northern Ireland sights.
Another favorite hotel where we’ve stayed a number of times is the 35-room Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough Bay, a lovely little harbor town and a delightful hotel, also with great food in-house (two restaurants – for formal or informal dining.) Originally built in 1848 as a coaching inn, the hotel has been owned for 60 years by the O’Neill family, the longest established hotelier family in Ireland.

Wherever you choose to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint, we hope you will enjoy that special day.


Spring has arrived in Ireland with fleecy, white lambs gamboling across the greenest of green fields and golden daffodils nodding in masses planted along roadsides everywhere. This is an absolutely brilliant time of year to visit the Emerald Isle. Travel information is available from your favorite travel agent or online at Aer Lingus and other airlines that serve Ireland.