St. Patty's in Ireland
December 4, 2008 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Any advice for traveling to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day?

A friend and I are considering a trip to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day and a few days before and after. Any advice on what to do/where to be on St. Patty's, what else goes on in Ireland in that week?

Also, any advice on Ireland in March? What can we expect weather-wise? If we want to see some of the country, should we rent a car or use public transport?

We're American, if that matters...
posted by j1950 to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: One last additional it possible to drive into Northern Ireland with an Irish-rented car?
posted by j1950 at 3:18 PM on December 4, 2008

Here's what to expect from the Dublin festival: lots and lots of Americans and teenagers getting drunk and puking green Guinness into the gutters. I once bumped into a bunch of Dubliners in Boston airport who'd chosen to escape the city for St Patrick's: the festival and parade stuff is basically an import of Irish-American tradition, rather than something native.

My honest advice would be to do the parade stuff in NYC, then head over soon after, when you won't be paying through the arse for everything. I'll quote this guy:
The 17th of March in Dublin is like August in Paris and like summer weekends in New York. Any city resident with a grain of sense gets the hell out of the place and lets the suburban barbarians and foreign innocents try (and fail once again) to convince themselves — as they shiver in the sleety rain and chow down on a half-cooked, frozen, deep-fried fish fillet that cost 11 euro — that they must be having fun because it’s St. Patrick’s day after all.
His alternative itinerary, though, would be great: take the DART to Howth in the morning, then Croke Park for the GAA club football and hurling finals, and then to Sandycove.

It can be cold and wet. Driving's best if you want to get off the beaten track, as long as you're comfortable driving on the left. Automatics are available. Cross-border rentais are usually not a problem, though you should mention in advance that you're planning on crossing the border. Some companies charge a supplement; others don't.
posted by holgate at 4:21 PM on December 4, 2008

Honestly, holgate is right. Skip Dublin at St. Pats unless you're a drunken frat boy. They only started making a big deal of it since they realized they could make a load of money on tourists on the day; there's no real tradition to it at all.

Ireland in March is like Ireland in August - it can be nice one day, and utterly foul the next. It'll probably be in the 50's and raining most of the time, though, but I've seen 65 and sunny in March in Dublin, so there's that. Layers are good. If you don't feel like renting a car, understand that your train options are somewhat limited - Ireland's a small country, and its rail system is geared to getting people to and from the main cities, for the most part. Galway is a great place to go - it's only about a three hour train trip, so you could easily take a morning train one day and an afternoon one the next and have a nice little getaway.

There is an extensive bus network in Ireland, but if time is an issue the bus is not a good way to go. However, they do run a few good day trips from Dublin - off-season ones are kinda sparse, but the day trip to Newgrange is pretty amazing and well worth it.

Renting a car is...interesting. Once you get off the main motorways and into the countryside, roads are usually fairly narrow and you have to watch for locals that have been driving those roads since they were built (which means they blast down them at 70 mph from out of nowhere). And Dublin is not a city for the faint of heart, as far as driving goes, either. There's good public transport (both bus and tram) in the city, and it's not that big of a city in the first place, so you really wouldn't need to rent a car to see anything you'd want to see as a tourist if you're staying in and around Dublin.

Outside Dublin, St. Patrick's week is nothing special - remember, it's a religious holiday there, not a boisterous celebration like the 4th of July is here. Not that the Irish aren't generally boisterous and up for a drink, mind, just don't expect the parade/beerfest in every town like you'd see in the US.
posted by pdb at 5:39 PM on December 4, 2008

*pulls up chair and sits down* My first trip to Ireland in 1991 was over St. Patrick's Day week. I stayed with one of my best friends -- a pen pal I'd had since I was 12.

I'd compare Ireland in March to...say, Washington DC or Pennsylvania at about that time. About 50's-60's temperaturewise. Wet, too -- not constant rain, but it will rain a bit every day.

Dublin's great, but it indeed will probably be crazy on St. Patrick's Day -- get to a smaller town (personally, I recommend Kinsale, in county Cork, because it's postcard-pretty, picturesque as all hell, and is also a big spot on the Irish culinary scene). If you're going to be in Ireland after St. Patrick's Day, that'd be a good time to check it out.

St. Patricks' Day in the smaller towns would be kind of like..I'd say, Thanksgiving here. There are some parades, sure, but mostly it's about family gatherings. Maybe some other parties going on. If you can find a place where they've got traditional music and any kind of set dancing, this would be fun -- you may not know what the hell to do in the dances, but most other people there won't know either. (My friend's family brought me to a dance, and each time they announced a new dance, there was always a three-minute huddle with all the groups of dancers while the one person who knew how that worked explained to the rest of us what to do.)

I'll think of more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:46 PM on December 4, 2008

Given the choice between the dozen or so March 17s I spent in London in pubs in Willesden full of expats on one hand, and the utter miserable shite which is March 17 here in Ireland... I'd be off to London if I cared.

But here in Ireland, Dublin is Teen Booze Puke-a-polooza to the extent that they're now closing all the liquor stores before 7pm across the whole city, Cork has a dismal parade and an overcrowded and overpriced market full of French food traders, and both have been about 0C (32F) and either pissing down with rain or sleeting for the last three years in a row.

Maybe Belfast's better. But ffs don't waste your money going to Dublin.

["Like Thanksgiving". *giggle* ]
posted by genghis at 5:57 PM on December 4, 2008

I almost did this last year, but then I went to Las Falles in Valencia instead. More fun, warmer weather, fire, fireworks, and just as much drinking.
posted by smackfu at 7:50 PM on December 4, 2008

roads are usually fairly narrow and you have to watch for locals that have been driving those roads since they were built (which means they blast down them at 70 mph from out of nowhere)

Even worse- a disturbing number of the elderly locals have only learned to drive in the past 5-10 years. The blasting around at 70mph bit is accurate though.

I nth not going to Dublin on St Patricks Day. It is still a religious and bank holiday so everything will be closed except the pubs which will be full of drunken foreigners.
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 PM on December 4, 2008

a disturbing number of the elderly locals have only learned to drive in the past 5-10 years

I see you've met my aunt.
posted by pdb at 8:22 PM on December 4, 2008

I nth not going to Dublin on St Patricks Day. It is still a religious and bank holiday so everything will be closed except the pubs which will be full of drunken foreigners.

Actually, no. This is the 21st century. Most major chain stores, etc will be open during the day (possibly with reduced hours).

St Patrick's Day in Dublin is now more of a three or four-day festival, so there's more than just the (pretty crappy unless you're a child) parade going on. But indeed, the pubs will be full of drunks, as will the streets (made the mistake of shopping on Grafton St after the parade last year; barely made it out with my life). Best avoided.

And one more thing: It's not St "Patty's" Day.
posted by macdara at 2:46 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Born in Cork, lived for 8 years in Dublin and nthing all the above. Do NOT go to Dublin on Paddy's day (not Patty's!! Never Patty's!). While we loved the fireworks display, we had small kids and avoided the pubs & drunks for the most part.
They didn't avoid us though! While my husband ( a medic) was assisting a drunk who decided to converse with the bumper of a slow moving car, his drunken loutish mates beat him up, and started on me (an obviously pregnant woman). This was 5pm on Dame Street.

I really like the idea of Kinsale, food capital of Ireland, or even farther west. My favorite places if you still go that week would be Ennis or Galway simply because they are smaller and the music is better. American friends of mine who hire cars are pretty freaked by just how small country roads are (most roads are country roads) especially as the locals drive in the centre of the roads at 70 miles per hour!

There's no problem going over the border once you notify your hire company and I don't recall my friends having to pay a supplement. There's also no longer a problem having a republic registered car as they bring in cash to the NI economy.
posted by Wilder at 3:07 AM on December 5, 2008

Actually, also what Smackfu said. Las Fallas in Valencia in Spain is far, far more fun. The drinking is the same but its mostly Spaniards & Catalans and they know how to drink. Food is awesome as well.
posted by Wilder at 3:19 AM on December 5, 2008

To disagree a little with the don't-go comments, it's not impossible to have a good time in Dublin on St Patrick's day. There are sometimes interesting events on, and if something catches your eye you can hit that and then get out of the centre of town by late afternoon, when the madness tends to start. Check the details on the site - they haven't put up the 2009 plan yet, but you can get an idea from last year. The worst aspects of it manifest themselves in the city centre - it will be quieter (though not obviously St P's day-ish) in the outer parts. Howth to the north or Dalkey to the south are affluent places that might provide a reasonable haven, and are nice places to visit in their own right.

That said, though, St P's day regularly makes me ashamed to be Irish. Much fun as we have playing up to our drunken stereotype when it suits us, our culture has a problem with booze, and March 17 shows it in its ugliest form. Teenagers drink until they vomit, there are incidents of drunken violence, the visitors who didn't do the research you're doing look shocked and disgusted. Irish parents who want to take their kids to the parade make damn sure they're out of town by 5pm or so, and even then they're taking their chances. The bars and pubs are unpleasantly full, packed to the doors. And the way the city looks the next day... If you want to get a reasonable insight into what the early stages of a societal breakdown might look like, I'd recommend an early-morning March 18 walk through Dublin. It's just _awful_.

So overall, I'd be inclined to nth the suggestion that you visit Ireland at a different time. Galway, as has been noted, is nice, but very tourist-dominated, as are the better-known parts of Cork and Kerry. For a different, more real take on Ireland, I'd suggest renting a car and going to Sligo (for the purposes of disclosure, I should note I grew up there). Tourists are common enough to be catered for, not so plentiful they're hated, there are lovely little towns like Strandhill and Rosses Point where you can get a drink and some decent food in convivial surroundings, the scenary is beautiful, and there's a good road almost all the way from Dublin. There are good surfing spots, if you're into that, and some of the best golf courses in Ireland (and much cheaper than the east or south). You can get the train, but you really need a car to get around. The 70mph-stories above contain a touch of exaggeration; drive sensibly and slowly yourself and you'll be fine.

Good luck!
posted by StephenF at 5:31 AM on December 5, 2008

["Like Thanksgiving". *giggle* ]

No offense meant, genghis, first thing. But what I meant was, in the smaller towns it was more of a gather-with-the-family-and-hang-out day as opposed to there being anything you did, you know, like shooting off fireworks on July 4th or hunting for Easter Eggs on Easter or exchanging presents at Christmas or something ilke that.

Maybe an odd-sounding word choice, I'll grant, but that's what I was getting at, that it wasn't like there was an Annual Shamrock Race or something dippy like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:55 AM on December 5, 2008

I went this year, and I'm going to disagree with the "don't go" comments. I had a great time. And I'm hardly the stereotypical teen/early-twenties party animal; I'm well into my thirties. (Although I don't always act my age, which maybe helped.)

That said, I'll agree with some of the particulars above. Weather has been covered pretty well. The parade route was very crowded. Get there well in advance of the start of the parade if you're going to get a good spot, and be prepared to be packed in so tight you can't move during the parade. I think we got there 75-90 minutes before the start of the parade, which was about right. (Interesting side note: nearly all the marching bands I saw were from the US or Canada. One from Japan I think. I don't know if that's because marching bands aren't common in Europe, or just because there's many US/Canadian bands who want to come.)

The crowd was by no means all Americans (although there were a lot); we ended up hanging out with a group from France one night. I didn't see any of the puking cited above myself, but that could be because at our advanced age, we didn't stay out nearly as late as some of the younger folk; I think we were always in for the night by midnight or so.

On driving: I'd agree with those who say don't drive in Dublin. We spent three days in Dublin, four days driving around the rest of the country, but didn't rent a car until we were ready to leave Dublin, and based on what we saw of the streets and traffic there, were glad we didn't. We didn't get to NI, so I can't comment on that.

One thing I'll add that I haven't seen mentioned yet: lines at the ATMs anywhere near the bars were insanely long in the evenings. If you're using ATMs for cash, be sure to get it either early in the day, or else somwhere well away from the Temple Bar area.

Outside of Dublin, where we were March 18-21, the tourist sites were not excessively crowded, other than a bit of a line at Blarney castle.

Here are my pictures, if you're interested.
posted by Chuck Carroll at 8:06 AM on December 5, 2008

If you're interested in the parade, but don't want to be squished, book a reservation at the Westin hotel in Dublin (on Westmoreland street) and SPECIFICALLY request a room with a view of Westmoreland Street ( Specify NOT Fleet Street).

Book it as soon as possible, as they go quickly. Then sit back, order room service, and hang out in your window, watching the parade below.

Last year they moved Skyfest (the fireworks) to Tipperary rather than Dublin. It's at Cashel. Not much to do there but the Rock (IMHO - if you like cows, sheep, and little old ladies serving in tea shops, you may differ in opinion).

Please don't get drunk and pee on my front door step.
posted by InfinateJane at 9:09 AM on December 5, 2008

Seconding StephenF on Sligo: we stayed out at Strandhill a few years back, as part of a swing round the west in April that also took us to Westport and Achill Island. Wasn't that warm, but it was fine spring weather, very quiet, and breathtakingly beautiful. For Americans who aren't too fussed by a three-hour drive, even along stretches of single carriageway road (i.e. undivided highway), it's easy to get out west. (And yes, book your rental car from Dublin airport, and take the bus out there to pick it up, rather than try driving in the city.)
posted by holgate at 10:13 PM on December 5, 2008

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