On St. Patrick’s Day and on various days prior, I will do my duty and cheer alongside parade routes, head to local Irish pubs, drink green beers and paint shamrocks on my face.
However, I do not have one hint of Irish in me.
Obviously, I’m not the only one, per the popular adage, ‘everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.’ But have you ever wondered how the real Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
“St. Patrick’s Day is kind of an American happening,” said Chris Flynn, owner of Hailey’s Harp and Pub, a Metuchen Irish pub that will receive around 1,000 visitors on the holiday, a huge upswing from their 200-person onslaught on a normal Saturday night. “However, the day is still about having ‘craic,’ or a good time, no matter where you are on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Ken Gardner, president of American Irish Association of Woodbridge who is mostly Irish, said that he believes that St. Patrick’s Day is “somewhat different” in Ireland, but in his position, he has had the opportunity to meet the Ireland’s ambassador to the United States and the counsel general and they have expressed their appreciation for the Americans’ keeping the St. Patrick’s Day traditions alive.
At home in New Jersey, Joan McNichol, president of the American-Irish Association of Central Jersey who is mostly Irish, celebrates St. Patrick’s Day for the entire season.
Wearing green on the day of my interview with her on March 10, McNichol said that she has been listening to Irish music to get into the spirit. On the holiday itself, she will bring in Irish soda bread to her workplace and listen to the Willie Lynch Band play later in the evening, a local Irish band, as well as eat corned beef and do traditional Irish dances such as Stack of Barley.
“This all just amounts to a typical Irish celebration,” she said.
The American Irish Association of Woodbridge, which was founded in 1966 and has over 400 members, held their two-mile parade Sunday, which they worked to organize for the entire year prior. It was made up of 10 bagpipe bands, area high school bands, fire departments, VFWs, sports leagues and other community organizations.
For this reason, St. Patrick’s Day is the association’s chance to have a day of relaxation and a good time to celebrate another parade – this year being their forty-third.
“On St. Patrick’s Day, we meet up at a local establishment that supports the parade each year,” said Gardner. “Since we work so hard before the parade, we’re a little tired by the time we get there, but we’re still up for a good time.”
The American-Irish Association of Central Jersey, which is three years old and has about 20 families in its membership, marched in its third parade on Sunday in Somerville.
Flynn celebrates the holiday by taking his family and management team out to New York City to visit Irish pubs, listen to live Irish music and enjoy some authentic fare, one week after St. Patrick’s Day.
“On the holiday itself, I still find it fun to be out celebrating with people,” said Flynn. “How great is it to go to a parade, watch the pipe bands march, see the Irish girls dance and see people with shamrocks on their faces?”
In order to spread out the holiday cheer, Hailey’s Harp and Pub has been hosting Irish events since Saturday night and will continue to do so each night until Friday.
“Come the other five nights because then you’ll experience more of the Irish,” said Flynn. “Plus, we’re also an Irish pub the other 364 days of the year.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, Flynn describes the pub as a “large house party” with people cocktailing and having a great time.
So what do these Irish-Americans think of those who are not Irish celebrating the iconic holiday?
“From our organization and personally, we work hard on the parade for our entire community – we know that not everyone is Irish,” said Gardner. “We all have a great day together and support the culture and homeland.”
Flynn said that just as he celebrates Cinco de Mayo when he is “110 percent Irish,” he appreciates that everyone can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. However, he also encourages people to visit local Irish establishments throughout the year when they’re doing other events as well, rather than solely on St. Patrick’s Day.
McNichol said that she “loves it” when she sees non-Irish celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
“Our motto is that we are open to the Irish and everyone who loves the Irish, which should be everyone,” she said. “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”
She said that there was never a St. Patrick’s Day growing up where she wasn’t surrounded by culture, food and parties. As a child, her family would pile in the car and head to Newark, which held one of the only parades at the time.
“There was a certain feeling in the air that I knew that this was my culture,” she said. “You stand a little taller when you hear the pipe bands play when you’re Irish.”