He wasn’t really Irish, and he didn’t wear green, but St. Patrick gets credit for bringing Christianity to Ireland, where he was taken as a slave back in the fifth century A.D. As the country’s patron saint, his day is celebrated around the world—but you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the festivities that mark March 17. Americans have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day since 1737, and while well over 32 million in this country claim Irish ancestry, this is a great time for everyone to enjoy the music and culture of the small island nation St. Patrick called home.
Where to start? At the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, of course!
“Usually, we get a great, great turnout: up to 10,000 people,” said parade coordinator Dorthy Winder. “It’s been going on for 18 years now; people know it’s a coming attraction, usually in March. We have a lot of pipe-and-drum bands, scouts, politicians. We have dog clubs, like the Irish Wolfhound Club; we have dancers that come every year. It’s such a variety of people!”
From its origins with the Gaithersburg Harp and Shamrock Society, Winder said, the parade has grown into a full-fledged family affair that brings people out of their winter hibernation for some fun and solidarity. “Everyone loves a parade,” Winder exclaimed. “There’s nothing like it: We all become kids, and the kids become happy.”
She said she loves the color, the costumes, the music—and the location. “The Rio is a fantastic place to have it,” she noted, “because after the parade there’s a short entertainment session—it’s such a cozy area, they have great parking, beautiful scenery and the shops are open!”
Which means that instead of the traditional Irish-American St. Patrick’s Day fare, corned beef and cabbage, parade-goers can find themselves a more authentically Irish snack—like tea and scones. Corned beef and cabbage, the go-to meal for Americans who trace their ancestry to Ireland, is virtually unheard of in the old country. But because immigrants used the ingredients at hand in the United States to remind them of traditional cuisine, corned beef became a stand-in for Irish bacon back in the late 19th century—and many Irish-Americans wouldn’t have it any other way.
But if you like your St. Patrick’s Day food on the sweet side, and you’re not averse to a bit of whiskey-infused drama (that’s whiskey with an “e”—only Scotland produces “whisky,” though both come from the Gaelic/Irish words “uisce beatha” meaning “water of life” — there’s a perfect solution for you. “Eat, Drink and be Murdered” at the Kentlands Mansion is a theatrical evening that combines an Irish family feud with a whiskey tasting and delicious desserts.
And, because March is Irish-American Heritage Month, it’s a good time to celebrate what the country of the Celts brings to the entire American mosaic. Irish dancers, wolfhounds, theater, whiskey and visual art. Sea! (pronounced “shah,” that’s Irish for yes) The earliest examples of Irish art date back to 3200 B.C. And while the Neolithic stone carvings at the Newgrange megalithic tomb in County Meath might be beyond the reach of a Friday night outing, Gaithersburg offers Art Night Out: Celtic Painting in Acrylic. Presented by Arts on the Green at the Arts Barn, it’s an art party with a Celtic theme that allows attendees to enjoy beer and wine while learning about—and creating—Celtic art.
St. Patrick’s Day is a great time to enjoy another form of Celtic art: Irish music. Annick Kanter is from Belgium, but she appreciates the popularity of Irish music at the Living Arts Concert Series she oversees at Resurrection Catholic Church in Burtonsville.
“We usually do about a concert a month,” said Kanter. “There’s a strong following for Irish music in this area, I found out. It’s been, maybe, eight years, and we have, always, an Irish concert. It’s always well-received, a very popular concert.”
An Irish concert complete with dancers from local Irish step-dancing schools, refreshments and the headliner, Laura Byrne and the Hedge Band. A group of Maryland’s top Irish musicians, the band was formed in 2005 and features piano, fiddle, flute and button accordion.
While the series offers a wide range of musical genres over the year, the St. Patrick’s Day Irish-themed event attracts a large audience, said Kanter. “They have strong ties to Irish culture, to their ancestry. And as the concert gets better known, they bring family and friends.”
Family and friends pretty much sums up the musical orbit of Know1Else, the Americana band featuring musician/stand-up comic Jay Keating, his daughter Mae and son John —students at Colonel Zadok A. Magruder High School—and Bethesda’s Kelly Diamond. They’ll join Limerick-born singer-songwriter Siobhán O’Brien, 11-time WAMMIE-winning singer-songwriter Cletus Kennelly, and tenor and 12-string guitarist Sean McGhee in a St. Patrick’s Day Showcase of Celtic Music on Saturday at Positano’s in Bethesda.
Keating said he grew up in Falls Church singing “Irish ballads at The Friendly Sons of St Patrick, annual event. I would sing songs like the ‘Irish Soldier Boy’ and ‘Kevin Barry’ for the dollars people would throw.”
As an adult, Keating, president of The Songwriters’ Association of Washington and a board member at Focus Music, prefers a 21st century twist on Irish music. “We will be covering a few classics,” he said of Saturday’s event. “But we are most excited to bring you modern Irish songs by people like Noel Brazil and Richard Thompson.” He promises Celtic flavor with a satisfying folk flair—and notes that food and drink are available for purchase at Positano’s.
Keating noted that the performers at this Focus St. Patrick’s Day concert are “Irish all year long.” On St. Patrick’s Day, though, everyone can “be Irish”—and with visual art, theater, music and a parade with 10,000 people in attendance there are plenty of ways to celebrate. Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!—Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you!
The 18th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 10, at RIO Washingtonian Center in Gaithersburg. Admission is free.
Art Night Out: Celtic Painting in Acrylic begins at 7 p.m. Friday, March 16, at the Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Admission is $45 for Gaithersburg residents, $50 for non-residents. Call 301-258-6394.
Arts on the Green and A Taste for Murder Productions present “Eat, Drink and Be Murdered,” at 8 p.m. Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 18, in the Kentlands Mansion, 320 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg. Tickets are $35 per person, $60 per couple, and include a dessert buffet and non-alcoholic beverages. A cash bar and whiskey tasting will be available. This event is appropriate for those 15 and older. Photo ID required for alcohol sales.
St. Patrick’s Day Showcase featuring Siobhán O’Brien, Cletus Kennelly, Sean McGhee and Know1Else will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 17, at Focus Bethesda at Positano’s Restaurant, 4948-4940 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda. Tickets are $20 at the door, $18 for Focus members and in advance.
Laura Byrne and the Hedge Band perform at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 18, at the Living Arts Concert Series at the Church of the Resurrection, 3315 Greencastle Road, Burtonsville. Suggested donation is $15.
Discover even more St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on our holiday events page here.