Any resident of Madrid who happened through the center of Madrid this weekend most likely noticed the harbingers of the upcoming excuse to visit your local Irish pub. From corny felt top hats with the Guinness logo, to signs at Irish bars and larger than average crowds outside such Irish bars, it’s clear that Saint Patrick’s Day is upon us.
What does this mean to an English teacher in Madrid? Well, depending on the age of your students it can mean fun activities to do with your students and engage them. But many may find ourselves wondering exactly what Saint Patrick’s Day actually is? Who was Saint Patrick? How is Saint Patrick relevant in Spain? And how is it that for many people it may be their only contact with Irish culture each year.
Associations with Saint Patrick’s Day run the gamut. Green rivers, Leprechauns, dark hearty Irish stouts, and shamrocks. For the most part, most of these things are unrelated to the actual Saint Patrick and his connection to Irish culture. Saint Patrick is Ireland’s primary patron saint, credited with bringing the Catholic faith to the then pagan and druid Irish. Born in Roman Britain in 387 AD (although the year is debated), as a child he was said to be a pagan. However, as a teenager he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sent to Ireland to work as a shepherd for six years. According to legend, it was during this hardship where he became religious and eventually escaped his servitude on a ship back to England where he began his religious career. Eventually he would return to Ireland as a bishop to evangelize using the shamrock, a ubiquitous plant in Ireland, to explain the Holy Trinity and bring Christianity to the once former polytheistic pagans.
Saint Patrick’s Day has been an official national holiday in Ireland since 1906, although its celebration dates back to the ninth and tenth centuries. The widespread celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day can easily be contributed to the impressive Irish diaspora, with notable celebrations of Saint Patrick’s day in communities with sizable Irish populations such as the UK (where in Northern Ireland it’s a public holiday), New Zealand, Canada (where in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador it is a public holiday), the USA (some of the most famous celebrations taking part in Boston, Chicago, Savannah, and Philadelphia which celebrated the first Saint Patrick’s day in the US in 1771), Argentina (with the fifth largest Irish population in the world outside of Ireland), and Monsterrat (a small Caribbean island founded by a small group of Irishmen). Given that Spain was never a huge magnet from migrants until recent years, Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in Madrid has grown in numbers over the last few years given that Madrid is the Spanish city with the largest Irish community. In 2013, both El Palacio de Comunicaciones and la Torre de Hércules were “dyed” green on March 16, the eve of Saint Patrick’s day, to celebrate the festivities in the Spanish capital.
So what to do this year in the Spanish capital? Several cultural events are being held to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day. The Irish Embassy will once again host Family Fun Day on Saturday March 18 with food, drink, and a variety of cultural performances at the Parque Deportivo de Puerta de Hierro. The Madrid city hall will once again illuminate the Palacio de Comunicaciones, la Puerta de Alcalá and the Cibeles Fountain green to celebrate. Not surprisingly, most of the cultural offerings will be organized by many of the Irish bars located throughout Madrid. O’Neill’s (Principe, 12) has organized the month long Taste of Ireland through the whole month of March to highlight Irish gastronomy. Check out the Irish Rover on March 16 and 17 for two concerts by Dublin’s the Colonial, and next door at Moby Dick on the same days the Irish band Saoghal will play with their set followed by Octavio DJ and DJ MAC from Ireland. While researching for this I came to learn that one of my favorite Madrid spots for a delicious gooey tortilla de patatas, La Ardosa (Colon, 13), is actually considered an Irish bar. So for good measure, stop on in and treat yourself to one of Spain’s national delicacies. If sport is your thing and you fancy some rugby matches then O’Connell (Espoz y Mina, 7), James Joyce (Alcalá, 59), or Bo Finn (Velázquez, 97) have all got you covered.
So those of you Bostonians or Monsterratians (yes, that’s what they’re called) yearning for St. Paddy’s day celebration, although Madrid may be lacking the Irish community of other cities, you should have no difficulty finding things to do.