10 Authentic Ways to Celebrate Irish Culture this St. Patrick’s Day

Observed around the world, St. Patrick’s Day is a chance for everyone to embrace the Irish culture, regardless of where they are or what their heritage might be. It’s a day to don yourself in green, enjoy a parade if your town has one, and grab a pint of Guinness, if you’re so inclined.

However, these common activities aren’t the only tactics to “be a little Irish” on March 17th. Instead, there are plenty of opportunities to authentically delve deeper into the Irish culture. Perhaps one of the best ways to partake in the tradition of St. Patrick’s Day, and honor the Irish, is to learn a little more about them.

Here’s a list of 10 fun and authentic ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day that you might not have thought of.

1. Have a St. Patrick's Day Movie Marathon

An Cailín CiúinForget films like P.S. I Love You or Leap Year, which are actually American movies set in Ireland—and not a very authentic Ireland at that. Instead, there are plenty of excellent Irish-made examples you may not have heard of. St. Patrick’s Day can be a great time to get acquainted with them. The Banshees of Inisheerin garnered international attention for its Oscar nominations in 2023, but other movies from the country’s vibrant film industry are must-sees. Here’s just a few: The Commitments (1991), Michael Collins (1996), Once (2007), The Secret of Kells (2009), Black 47 (2018), Flora and Son (2023), Belfast (2021) and the first Irish language film to be nominated for an Academy Award, An Cailín Ciúin (The Quiet Girl) (2022).

2. Play a GAA Sport

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) oversees several official and uniquely Irish sports on the island, the most popular being hurling and Gaelic football. Being different than sports played in other countries, if you haven’t seen them before, they’re worth looking up. Responding to the Irish diaspora, hurling and Gaelic football are played in many places outside of Ireland. Those living in the USA can find their nearest GAA club here. If your nearest city doesn’t have a league, you can still probably buy the sliotar (ball) and camán (stick) used in hurling and play in your backyard.

Play hurling on St. Patrick's Day
Hurling match (photo by Peter Mooney)

3. Listen to Irish Music

Listen to The Pogues this St. Patrick's Day
Shane MacGowan of The Pogues (photo by Redadeg)

As a country rich in musical tradition, there’s no shortage of songs to discover!

If you’re in the mood for traditional music (trad), why not play some tunes from The Dubliners, The Chieftains or Dervish? Perhaps you’d like to listen to classic Irish artists like Christy Moore, Clannad, Sinéad Ó Connor, The Pogues or The Saw Doctors? You can further enrich your St. Patrick’s Day experience by delving into modern rock bands from Ireland such as The Cranberries, Snow Patrol or U2. If you’re curious about newer Irish music on the rise today, check out Lankum, Fontaines DC, Soda Blonde, Hozier or Cmat!

4. Learn the Irish Language

Maybe the best way to throw yourself into the popular holiday is to learn a little Irish! Here at LetsLearnIrish.com, you’ll find daily classes and weekly conversation sessions, as well as special online workshops, such as our Free Workshop at the beginning of each month. Check out the learner videos and articles for extra inspiration. Speaking a few words in Irish could very well be the perfect way to celebrate “Lá Fhéile Pádraig” (St. Patrick’s Day) this year!

5. Donate to an Irish Charity

Give to Trocaire for St. Paddy's DayWhat better way to be in the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day than to contribute to an organization helping those in need, whether in Ireland or outside of it. Some of the largest Irish charities include the Irish Cancer Society (for those affected by cancer), Enable Ireland (supporting individuals with disabilities) and the Pieta House (trying to prevent suicide and self harm). Additionally, Trócaire works in partnership with communities in 23 countries in Ireland to relieve poverty and tackle injustice.

6. Go to an Event by an Irish Organization

Irish Network USA can help you celebrate St. Paddy's DayMany cities around the world are home to Irish organizations and most of these groups hold parades, dinners or festivals on March 17th. Irish Network USA (IN-USA), for example, is a national organization of Irish, Irish-Americans, and friends of Ireland with the shared goal of furthering ties between the United States and Ireland. They have branches in New York City, Washington DC, Boston and other cities, making them a great place to connect with those who have an interest in the culture.

7. Try Irish Dancing

Irish Dancing on St. Paddy's Day
(photo by US Army)

When Riverdance came onto the scene at the 1994 Eurovision contest, it immediately forged itself a place in Irish culture. A modification of traditional step dancing, it went on to become a stage show and one of the most successful dance productions in history. In addition to the more “classic” style of step dancing, other types of dancing are also popular in Ireland, including sean nós, céilí, and set dancing. These dances are not only taught all over the world, but can also be learned online (as became common during the pandemic). Irish Dance Magazine provides a list of Irish dancing schools around the world, as does the World Irish Dance Association.

8. Read Irish Mythology

Cú Chulainn
Young Cú Chulainn by Stephen Reid

Ireland is a treasure chest of myths and folklore, many of them believed to date back to prehistoric times and written down as soon as the twelfth century. Meet epic heroes as they play their part in the wars of kings and queens, coming upon magical figures along the way. You might be surprised just how entertaining these stories are.

One place to start could be the graphic novel version of An Táin, which tells the classic tale of Cúchulainn, Queen Méabh and the cattle-raid for the Brown Bull of Cooley. For more adventures into Ireland’s mythical past, see Irish animations such as Song of the Sea (2014) and The Secret of Kells (2009).

9. Eat a St. Patrick's Day Meal

Colcannon, the perfect dish for Saint Patrick's Day
Colcannon (photo by Vegateam)

Many people have bacon and cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (Irish immigrants in the US began substituting corned beef for the bacon in the 19th century). However, that’s not your only culinary option for foods associated with the Emerald Isle. A Guinness stew makes for a hardy and holiday-appropriate lunch, perhaps accompanied by a slice of soda bread. You can also try your hand at making some traditional Irish Colcannon. This Irish dish of creamy mashed potatoes and cabbage derives its name from the Irish word for white-headed cabbage, cál ceannann. A true celebration of the humble spud, this dish is the perfect addition to any meal.

10. Read an Irish Author

Seamus Heaney and the Irish language
Seamus Heaney in 1982 (photo by Bernard Gotfryd)

For the size of the country, Ireland has produced many world-recognized writers. Those into poetry will enjoy the work of Ireland’s Noble Prize winner Seamus Heaney or the renowned Paul Muldoon. Many people will have heard of James Joyce, but other great fiction writers include Patrick Kavanagh, John McGahern and Eugene McCabe—to name a few of many. March is as good of a time as any to pick up a book from an Irish author and delve into Ireland’s literary contributions.

At the heart of St. Patrick’s Day is embracing the Irish culture, regardless of where you are or who your ancestors might be. There are many ways to do that. Ireland is a country rich in traditions, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore them this March. And in doing so, you might meet new friends, pick up a new language, or find a new favorite author.

This St. Patrick’s Day, put on something green and discover something new about Ireland, and…Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!

Join the online Irish community for cúrsaícomhrá & ceardlanna, and follow along on social media @LetsLearnIrish – beidh fáilte romhat!

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