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Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in style!

Two young women watching a St Patrick's Day parade in Belfast

Updated: 17 March 2016

On 17 March, you might suddenly notice people wearing green clothes, painting shamrocks on their faces, and partying until the early hours…

You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the ‘craic’ on St Patrick’s Day. Find out how to celebrate in style!

What is St Patrick’s Day?

St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Historically he was associated with the introduction of Christianity to Ireland, in the 5th century.

It’s believed Patrick arrived on the slopes of Slemish in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, to tend sheep as a slave. He died on 17 March in the year 461 AD, and is buried in the graveyard beside Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, just south of Belfast – Northern Ireland’s capital city. Look for a spot marked with a large stone and cross engraved with the name ‘Patric’. You can find out more about the history of St Patrick here.

Nowadays, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated all over the world, and people of all religions are invited to join in! It’s a festival of Irish culture, with Irish music, dancing, food and drink.

See what it's like to study in Northern Ireland in this video:

St Patrick’s Day celebrations

There are parties and parades all over the world on St Patrick’s Day, but some of the biggest are in Northern Ireland – take a look at Discover Northern Ireland’s events list to see what’s going on near you.

In Belfast, there's a colourful carnival parade featuring musicians, dancers, acrobats and spectacular floats. The parade starts from Belfast City Hall at noon and makes its way through the city centre, followed by a free outdoor concert with both traditional and pop music.

Why not visit the cities of Derry/Londonderry (celebrating this year with a four-day 'entertainment extravaganza'!) or Lisburn? Come to Giant's Causeway and watch it turn green for St Patrick's Day (click here if you don't believe us!) or see the parade at the St Patrick's Day Festival in the town of Enniskillen.

There are many celebrations outside Ireland too, in towns and cities across the UK – particularly those with large Irish communities, such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds (to name just a few!), where there will be even more parades and cultural performances.

Plus, lots of universities and colleges across the UK hold parties for St Patrick’s Day, so have a look at noticeboards or ask your students' union what's going on at your campus.  

The best part is, almost all of these events are free – you can join the outdoor parties, enjoy live music and dance all day without spending a penny (although you might want to bring some cash for the many tempting food and drink stalls)!

Many events are held on the weekends before and after St Patrick’s Day, as 17 March falls on a Tuesday this year, but some take place on the day itself. In Northern Ireland, 17 March is a bank holiday, which means most businesses and institutions are closed. (Find out more about bank holidays in Festivals, celebrations and public holidays.)

International students celebrating Saint Patrick's Day at Belfast's street party in 2007 (Photo ©Brian Morrison)

Join in with the ‘craic’!

Craic (pronounced ‘crack’) is an Irish slang word for fun, entertainment or enjoyable conversation. Just say ‘that was good craic’ and you’ll fit right in!

  • What to wear: If you’re going to a St Patrick’s Day event, it is customary to wear green – some people dress head-to-toe in green and even use green face paint! Many also wear a shamrock, the three-leaved clover that is a symbol of Ireland.

  • Music and dance: To really immerse yourself in Irish culture, go to a céilí. This is a traditional Gaelic party with folk music and dancing, which originated in Ireland and Scotland (in Scotland it is spelled cèilidh). There is usually a live band and a ‘dance caller’, who teaches the dance moves. Many student groups arrange these – ask your students' union for details.

  • Food: This is also a great opportunity to taste traditional Irish food. If you like to cook, try the recipes at Discover Northern Ireland – you could make the famous Irish stew, a thick stew of mutton and potatoes, or colcannon, mashed potatoes with cabbage and onions.

Like the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has many restaurants for all tastes and budgets, where you can try fresh local produce such as Comber potatoes and Armagh Bramley apples. Northern Ireland is also known for baking, and you’ll still find family-owned bakeries in most towns and villages. Irish soda bread is delicious with stew, soup or an Ulster fry – the traditional Northern Irish fried breakfast.

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