Celebrate the ancient roots of St. Patrick’s Day this year

Various celebrations are taking place around the Lower Mainland in recognition of the traditional Irish holiday on March 17

St. Patrick's Day is a historical Irish holiday that has turned into a global celebration. (Unsplash/Autumn Martin)

St. Patrick’s Day is a historical Irish holiday that has turned into a global celebration. (Unsplash/Autumn Martin)

March 17 marks St. Patrick’s Day, an ancient Irish holiday that has turned into a global phenomenon.  

This day has been observed as a religious holiday in Ireland for over 1,000 years in recognition of Saint Patrick’s death. Traditionally on this day, Irish families would attend a morning church service and then throw a celebration in the afternoon.

Saint Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland in the fifth century. He was born in Roman Britain, kidnapped at age 16, and brought to Ireland as an enslaved worker. Six years later, he escaped but returned to Ireland and was credited for bringing Christianity to the Irish folk. 

The centuries following Saint Patrick’s death were led with mythology surrounding his life and became ingrained in Irish culture. This includes the legend that Saint Patrick explained the Holy Trinity using three leaves of a native Irish clover and the shamrock, an ancient Irish plant.

Another icon of this holiday is the Leprechaun, which stems from the tales of Celtic mythical fairies who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. Leprechauns were responsible for mending the shoes of these fairies and were known for their trickery, which they used to protect their treasures — otherwise known as their pot of gold.

St. Patrick’s Day is now celebrated across the world by people of all backgrounds, spanning from the United States and Canada to Japan and Russia. While this boost in popularity is often credited to Irish diaspora, as Ireland has one of the highest native-born populations living overseas in the world, the holiday offers an opportunity for local communities to gather together for a day of fun.

 While Vancouver may not be dying False Creek green like the Chicago River, there are various exciting and festive events to check out in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day this month.

One organization that has planned multiple upcoming St. Patrick’s Day events is CelticFest Vancouver, a non-profit society that started in 2004 through the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. The society aims to annually bring the local community together through the celebration of Celtic culture to deliver education on global Celtic heritage and showcase local and international Celtic music, dance, spoken word, theatre, film, art, crafts, food, and beverages.

Alan Cosgrave, board vice chair for CelticFest Vancouver, says the idea behind their events is to help fix crumbled Celtic heritage. 

“Most people think it’s just an Irish festival, but there’s seven [Celtic] nations that claim Catholic heritage,” Cosgrave says. “[We’re] trying to raise awareness around all that … [while having] a bit of fun as well.”

On March 16, a burlesque show called “What’s the Craic? A Night of Irish Devilry” organized by CelticFest Vancouver will take place at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver at 8:00 pm. The show will feature comedy, drag, live music, and games. Tickets are $30 in advance, which can be purchased on the Rio Theatre’s website, and $40 at the door.

Amy Walsh, a comedian from Ireland who recently moved to British Columbia, is hosting the show and says it’s named after the Irish slang word “Craic,” which is used as a way of greeting another person or describing something good.

“It’s one of the best productions I’ve ever been involved in,” Walsh says. “Before I even moved to Vancouver, I had heard about Rio, so to get to perform on the stage and for St. Patrick’s Day, it’s so exciting.”

Walsh has always loved performing and uses comedy as an outlet to express herself.

 “Since I’ve started doing comedy, if anything bad happens in my life, instantly I’m like, ‘Okay, how can I make this into a joke?’ It’s such a good way to process things because I’m instantly just trying to see what the silver lining is.”  

She says attendees should expect the unexpected at the upcoming show and is looking forward to celebrating Irish culture in all its different shapes and forms.

“I love St. Patrick’s Day and I always have loved St. Patrick’s Day,” Walsh says. “I think it’s a great celebration of Ireland and what we have to offer.”

“I think it does bring a lot of people from different backgrounds together. You don’t have to be Irish to come and there’s a bit of everything for everyone, like a comedy musical burlesque. It’s [got] a real community feel to it.”

On March 17, CelticFest Vancouver’s St. Patrick’s Day Ceilidh will be taking place from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm at the Hellenic Community Centre. A Ceilidh is a social event that involves Scottish or Irish folk music and singing, traditional dancing, and storytelling.

The night will be hosted by Blackthorn, a Canadian Celtic folk band, and feature Irish dancers from Eire Born Dance Company, Highland dancers from Shot of Scotch Vancouver Company, and talents from The British Columbia Regiment Irish Pipes and Drums. The dance groups will teach participating attendees how to Irish and Highland dance. Tickets start at $22.63 for students and can be purchased through Eventbrite.  

“For local artists, the festivals are what kind of drives their livelihood. So, the fact they’re able to bank on [St. Patrick’s Day], it’s pretty much the kickoff to spring and summer in the city,” Cosgrave says. “I think it’s an important part of helping them get their year off on the right foot and get that exposure.”

CelticFest Vancouver will also be hosting a free St. Patrick’s Day festival from March 17 to 18 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Everyone is welcome to attend and the event will feature live music, performances, a beer tent, Irish dancing, a Celtic-themed market, a family zone, and sport demonstrations.

Pat Chessell, a folk singer from Vancouver, will be performing at the event on March 18 at 12:00 pm. He’s been playing music professionally around Vancouver since he was 16 and currently has four albums.

“[Singing] was definitely a big part of [my] culture growing up in a family with Irish roots and maritime roots,” Chessell says.

“In those cultures, songs were really helpful [as they were how] history was passed on. It kind of becomes a way of expressing yourself. That’s why I feel so connected to them, not only because of the stories behind them, but there’s a lot of nostalgia.”

Chessell will also be performing at Blue Frog Studios, a live recording theatre in White Rock on March 17. 

“This will probably be my fifth or sixth St. Patrick’s Day performing at Blue Frog,” Chessell says.

“Do yourself a favour and try to get there for one reason or another. I’ve played all across Canada, the [U.S.], and Europe, and Blue Frog is hands down my favourite venue to play. The sound is amazing. The people to work with are amazing. It’s a little bit of a hidden gem in Western Canada.”

Attendees can expect to be in for a night of storytelling, music, and cultural Celtic fun.

“I think [St. Patrick’s Day] is great. Considering what’s going on in the world, I think anything that brings people together to have a good time is a good thing in my books,” Chessell says.

“Cultural types of music like this [can] help with diversity and inclusion in our communities. I think the more we can learn about other cultures, it’s always an amazing thing and I think the arts, in general, have always played an important role in any society of bringing people together and passing on stories.”

Chessell intends to pass on his own stories and history through music by writing songs about modern-day B.C. Tickets to his performance at Blue Frog Studios are currently sold out, but the show will be live-streamed on Blue Frog TV at 7:00 pm. The live stream can be accessed via a subscription to the platform.

On March 18, non-profit society Vancouver Odd Fellows is hosting a St. Patrick’s Day Fundraiser for the Make-a-Wish foundation. The fundraiser starts at 7:00 pm and attendees can look forward to an evening of Irish entertainment, dancing, drinks, and socializing. 

“We have a social side to us where we have fun with our members, so that’s part of why we’re doing [the fundraiser],” says Walter Wells, a volunteer at Vancouver Odd Fellows. “[The other] part is that we help the community. We do fundraisers to help different charities.”

The Vancouver Odd Fellows serve as a social anchor for those looking to be part of a community environment. The origins of this society link back to the “Odd Fellowship,” which Wells says is a group that originated hundreds of years ago in England when there were no social services.  

“One of the biggest assets we have is this beautiful ballroom dance hall. It was custom built for the Odd Fellows 100 years ago.”

The fundraiser will be held in their ballroom hall located on West 8th Avenue in Vancouver. The Watt Irish Dancers are one of the performers featured at this event.

“If you’re a parent of a child who’s in Irish dancing, you have a commitment. They have to put thousands [of dollars] into their costumes, and they’re stunning. They come in, they put their show on, and, especially in our hall, it’s spectacular with the hardwood floor and they put their hard shoes on. It’s really dramatic and quite a show,” Wells says. 

 Tickets for the event are $31.97 and can be purchased on Eventbrite. 

Restaurants around the Lower Mainland are also putting on celebrations in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day.

Donegal’s Irish House is a pub in Surrey known for its Irish hospitality. Located on 96 Ave near Scott Rd, the pub will be stocked up on Guinness, green beer, and Irish Whisky for March 17. There will also be Irish dance performances and a feature menu to order from.

Also in Surrey is The Dublin Crossing Public House, an Irish pub located on Fraser Hwy. Erin Knudsen, general manager at The Dublin Crossing, says the pub will start its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations right when doors open at 11:00 am.

“St. Patrick’s Day is always our busiest day of the year. We usually anticipate a lineup right [when we] open,” Knudsen says.

“We do bands throughout the entire day, starting right at [11 am]. We bring in Irish dancers, we’ve got a magician, we’ve got a photographer that comes around and takes photos, and [the restaurant] is all beautifully decorated. We do lots of giveaways, so everybody that comes in on St. Patrick’s Day is entered into a raffle to win a trip to Ireland.”

The Dublin Crossing first opened its doors 16 years ago, and Knudsen says it’s well known in the community for its fundraising events and live music. The pub serves several authentic Irish dishes like fish and chips, bangers and mash, and their top-seller Yorkshire pudding. 

“St. Patrick’s Day is the heart of Dublin crossing,” Knudsen says. “It’s like a big party for both [our] staff and customers. It’s kind of like our Christmas in a way.” 

“Ireland is a very small country, but every country in the world seems to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day,” Cosgrave says. “It’s kind of amazing how it’s been turned into such a big festival globally.”