Ireland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day in May.
“Bollocks!” you say.
“It’s true,” I insist. “I was there.”
You see, in March of 2001, Ireland experienced its first outbreak of foot and mouth disease since 1941. And Ireland quickly set up measures to control the spread of this disease. As a result, many tourist attractions and outdoor festivals were closed, including the popular St. Patrick’s Day parade.
But my friend Chris and I felt that that spring was a perfect time to re-visit the Emerald Isle. Tourism to the UK and Ireland was down due to tourists being wary of exposure to the dreaded foot-and-mouth. That meant flights were bound to be much cheaper and there would be far fewer tourists getting in our way to view the same attractions. We were right on both counts.
We packed in as much as we could into our trip to Ireland, from strolling the south strand in Skerries, Co. Dublin to kissing the Blarney Stone in Co. Cork. From listening to traditional Irish music whilst imbibing Guinness in the sleepy but picturesque fishing town of Kinsale to exploring Cashel Rock in Co. Tipperary. We went from admiring centuries-old Celtic crosses to scratching our heads at Irish road signs attached haphazardly to a post with directions written only in Gaelic!
Although we weren’t anywhere near Dublin, I suggested to Chris that we back-track to the city to catch the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Chris is reluctant to do so as we were well on our way to Galway on the opposite coast at this point.
“It’s just a parade,” says she.
“We have to go!” I plead. “What are the odds of us being in Ireland to see a St. Patrick’s Day parade ever again?
I’m able to convince her at length, and we catch the next train to the east coast. The train station in Dublin is about a 20-minute walk to the parade route. We still have plenty of time before the parade starts so we stop at the real Guinness Brewery gift shop, which just happens to be along the way, to purchase some souvenirs.
May 19 and 20, 2001 is dubbed the St. Patrick’s Day Festival and festivities have already begun. There is music. And there are street performers. And there are Elvis impersonators everywhere. But when the actual parade starts, we are pleasantly surprised. This is no ordinary parade. Sure, there are horses, a few floats and marching bands including one from New York that got to participate in two St. Patrick Day Parades in the same year but on different continents! But, for the most part, this parade is more like the Mardi Gras Carnival. Stilt walkers. Colourful, colourful costumes. And even elaborate, precision-engineered, human-controlled “pedestrian floats”.
When the parade ends, I’m anxious to partake in some pub grub and to raise a glass of Guinness to this amazing day. Chris, not so much. Not that she has anything against this activity, but she is worried that we might miss the last train leaving Dublin. If we do, our plans to explore the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula are in danger of being delayed or even terminated.
“You know how long it takes to get to the train station from here and we’re already familiar with the route,” I remind her. “We have plenty of time.”
But she will not be swayed.
“OK. You go,” I tell her. “But I’m going to find me a pub.” Darkey Kelly’s sounds like a good choice and I squeeze past the revelers to order my pub food and Guinness. Lively traditional tunes fill the air, and everyone is in a celebratory mood including two couples who are pub-hopping.
“This is so much better,” says one of the women. “We were just at the Temple Bar and you can’t even move there.”
Wow. And I thought this place was packed! I eat my pub grub, drink my stout and visit with my new friends while listening to traditional Irish music. I imagine heaven to be just like this.
Two hours later, I arrive at the train station to find Chris patiently sitting on a bench waiting for boarding call. I think the past two hours might have been slightly more enjoyable for me than they were for her. Just a hunch.