Saint Patrick’s Day in New York City

Gretchen M. Michelfeld

Photo Credit: the Tenement Museum

The New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the oldest, largest, and most famous Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world. It began when a group of homesick Irish expats and military members stationed with the British Army in the colony of New York decided to march through lower Manhattan to honor the fifth-century missionary who became the patron saint of Ireland. On March 17th, 1762, fourteen years before the start of the American Revolutionary War, people proudly wore green (a symbol of Irish pride that was banned by the British in Ireland), played Irish pipes, sang Irish songs, and gloried in speaking their native language.

More than 250 years later, today’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade boasts over 200,000 participants and millions of spectators who line the streets or watch the festivities on television. If you’re planning to attend, the parade starts at 11:00 a.m. and travels up Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 79th Street. Everyone should experience this New York tradition at least once in their lives, but if you’re looking for a quieter, more intimate way to honor the day, here are a few suggestions:

  • Take the Irish Outsiders tour at the Tenement Museum. Learn about Irish culture, traditions, and faith on this daily guided tour of an apartment at 97 Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Immerse yourself in the lives of the Moore family. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Moores were one of only two Irish Catholic immigrant families who lived at 97 Orchard. They struggled through poverty and disease and faced rampant anti-Irish prejudice. Tour their home as it stood in 1869.
  • Check out the weekly Irish Music and Dance Session at Paddy Reilly’s. Located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Paddy Reilly’s has been presenting live Irish music sessions since 1986. On Thursday nights, Niall O’Leary, the acclaimed founder of the School of Irish Dance, hosts musicians and Irish step-dancers from around the world.
  • Join the Irish Arts Center at Symphony Space for the 8th Annual Celtic Appalachian Celebration. On Friday March 13th at 8 p.m., hear Irish, West African, and Appalachian themes woven through a range of American folk tunes, played by Green Fields of America, Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass, Nora Brown, Stephanie Coleman, and Megan Downes. Love Bluegrass? Clogging? This celebration is for you.
  • Experience a traditional Irish céilí!  A céilí is an old-fashioned house party or community social. The word is derived from the Old Irish céle meaning “companion.” It later became céilidhe and céilidh, which means “visit” in Gaelic. Later Irish orthography reformed the spelling as céilí. Every year, Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Parish Center hosts a St. Patrick’s Day céilí that is open to the public. On Sunday March 8th, you can purchase your $25 tickets at the door (230 East 90th Street) and enjoy all the corned beef, cabbage, and live Irish music you want from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. There will be a cash bar and dancing.

Many people also choose to celebrate with a cozy day at home and some fun Irish cooking. Local Irish artist Anne Heffernan recently told me about her St. Patrick’s Day traditions: “I always make Catherine Fulvio’s Guinness Casserole served with Irish flag-colored veggies and bake shamrock shaped shortbread,” she said. Anne’s pet peeve? “It is not ‘St. Patty’s Day!’ It’s either St. Patrick’s Day or St. Paddy’s Day!”