St Patrick's Day: Five reasons why British eyes are smiling for the patron saint of Ireland

Britain turns green this weekend as cities all over the country celebrate St Patrick's Day.

Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and London will host the biggest parades, with Irish food and dance, crafts, culture and music on offer.


Thousands of people will line the streets sporting comedy hats, with painted shamrocks on their faces and the Tricolours grasped tightly in their hands.

So how has St Patrick's Day come to assume such a large cultural space in the UK's calendar? Here's five good reasons why March 17 is celebrated so wholeheartedly on this side of the Irish Sea.

The power of Irish folklore and the arts

There's more to Ireland than the cliched image of the Leprechaun: James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Van Morrison - for such a small country, Ireland has made a massive contribution to world culture. Irish traditional music has managed to remain vibrant into the 21st century, with acts like Patrick Street and Stockton's Wing keeping the green flag flying high. The drinking songs, the ballads and laments all evoke a sense of romance and comradeship. It's hard not to be swept along.



Because St George just doesn't cut the mustard


It's not St George's fault necessarily, it's more to do with English identity. Historian Robert Winder expresses it well in his splendid book "The Story of Immigration to Britain". He writes: "Irish folklores are paraded as bright tokens of subjugated national identity, thriving on a delight of not being English, and leaving Englishness as a bewildered grey area stranded between vivid banner. St Patrick's Day is celebrated with more vibrancy and brio than St George's Day, even in Guildford." Why? Winder believes the regional fracture of England, where Truro and Teeside are divided by more than miles, does not help. And when the St George's flag is co-opted by the BNP and football hooligans, it only adds to the sense that patriotism is troublesome and embarrassing.


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The power of the diaspora

The Irish have a long history in Britain. In the 2001 census there were 674,786 people in England - that's 1.4 per cent of the population - who had been born in Ireland. It makes up the greatest concentration of Irish-born people abroad anywhere in the world. As many as six million people in the UK are estimated to have at least one Irish grandparent and one in four Britons laid claim some degree of Irish ancestry. With this size of captive audience it's little wonder there's a huge appetite to embrace St Patrick's Day.



The era of festival

The last 20 years has seen an explosion in the amount of festivals. Post-war frugality loosened in the Sixties and the growth of Glastonbury inspired a clutch of imitators, especially in the late Nineties and the Noughties. The Edinburgh Festival evolved into the largest arts festival in the world and annual events that celebrated ethnic identity like the Notting Hill Carnival and Chinese New Year just got bigger and bigger. It was in this dynamic milieu that St Patrick's Day flourished.


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Brand Patrick

In the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a marketing campaign of sorts. It wanted to use St Patrick's Day to showcase the nation and its culture. The government set up a group called St Patrick's Festival, which looked to project modern Ireland in a positive light by putting on a festival that would rank as one of the greatest parties in the world. Already celebrated with great vim in the US, the growth of Dublin's festivities acted as a catalyst for large-scale events in the rest of Ireland and beyond.
Guinness & Co, makers of that particularly popular Irish dry stout, spread the message extremely effectively too, urging consumers in its commercials to "round up your mates for a Guinness this St Patrick's Day". Evidently the message is effective - about 13 million pints of Guinness are expected to be drunk across the globe on March 17.





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