St. Patrick’s Day, From Ireland to Dongguan

Lá fhéile pádraig or, St. Patrick’s day, is a festival filled with fun customs, hearty foods and famous myths. Grab a pint of Guinness and get on board with all that is Irish this march!

Why are shamrocks and Guinness the symbols of St. Patrick’s Day? The humble beginnings started with a Roman British missionary that headed for the emerald island. By headed, I mean kidnapped by Irish pirates. After freeing himself from slavery, he escaped back to Britain, became a cleric, and once again headed west, on free will, to act as a bishop. His time in capture had allowed a love of the Celtic nation to grow. Hardship followed and through adversity he triumphed, with his brand of Christianity infiltrating the then Irish royal family and eventually King Lóegaire mac Néill.

The virtuous figure of Saint Patrick died on March 17 in 461A.D. The date is both solemn and a holy day of obligation. It now is recognized as a celebration of everything Irish and Ireland itself. He led baptisms of the prominent and poor, he activated priests, he built schools and he initiated a cathedral. All inside 30 years. A keen writer, he documented his works in a book called Confessions. Not bad for a man born just south of Hadrian’s Wall—the Great Wall of China for primitive Britain back then. The patron saint of engineers is buried in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

Many places have historical, mythological and other connections to the Saint himself. Like the good Saint, Irish culture has permeated the world and even arrived in Dongguan. What’s the craic here? The one-day festival can be experienced at several Western bars, such as the typical overseas Irish bar. You know, like Murray’s, run by a Canadian, with a German dog as part of the logo, and some cliché Irish décor throughout the venue. The Irish factor comes from the craic—the juicy gossip, the comfortable setting, the live music which creates a merry atmosphere for drinking and dancing, among enjoyable conversations within the establishment.

The food dishes that often accompany the celebration include beef and Guinness pies, corned beef with cabbage, Irish brown bread, “poundies” or “cally” (a potato cake), Irish stews and Irish potato soup, followed by deliciously moreish Irish coffees, naturally. Green food dyes are commonly utilized on this famous day of the year. Irish-themed quizzes, music and open mic nights swallow Dongguan’s nightlife.The Moon & Sixpence in Changping is a lesser-known Irish bar, furnished well, with Guinness on tap. You don’t necessarily need to spend time in an Irish bar, as most English/American bars (Liberty Brewing Co., Ziggy’s in Chang’an, Irene’s Bar in Houjie, etc.) embrace the spirit—and spirits.

In Ireland and Northern Ireland, the festival is a public holiday. Here, in Dongguan, we can celebrate in our own ways—by singing a Westlife hit if we like. At schools, students often hold special parades, themed with green laces and jewelry. Hats are worn with shamrocks (three leaves), clovers (four leaves) and Celtic-style flags. Fabric collages, story-telling and even Leprechaun hunts can be held. Leprechauns are the guardians of the gold at the end of rainbows. Some traditions are modern, all are passionate. Perhaps it is fitting that St. Patrick can be called upon against snake bites and the fear of said snakes. Dongguan has a few snakes after all.

If you really want to embrace all that is Irish this year, switch your TV to the hit show Father Ted. Go on. Perhaps a guitarist named Patrick will sing a few traditional folk songs or bang out a “Black 47” hit or two near you. String together your harp and play a tune by Sinéad O’ Connor. Whack your “bodhrán” (drum) and grab your copy of the works of Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. Learn how to pronounce the name “Cian”—and ask Cian if he has read Well Remembered Days by Arthur Matthews. The beauty of Dongguan is that right here, Ireland is closer than ever before. The commemorative day is a day that is much more than just a cold glass of bog water-colored Guinness, however good that hearty beverage might be. St. Patrick’s represents community and here in Dongguan, we certainly hold community values high among our diverse and international family.