What to Do on St. Patrick’s Day While Studying in Ireland

A photo of an Irish city, with additional photos of a castle, international students celebrating St. Patrick's Day while studying in Ireland, and an Irish flag.

St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland. It’s a day off from your classes, as universities and colleges, like many businesses, are closed on March 17. So, this means you can make the most of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day while studying in Ireland. One of the most traditional things you can do is spend time with people you care about. 

As an international student, your family will likely be out of reach, so it’s a great day to spend with friends. Whether you travel to a festival in your best green clothes, visit your local pub for a pint, or try a traditional Irish meal, you’ll be in good company. Keep reading for insider tips on how to do St. Patrick’s Day right (and a few things to avoid)!

Thinking of studying abroad in Ireland? Check out our list of its four most affordable student cities.

An illustration of a three-leaf clover surrounded by colourful sparkles, representing celebrating St. Patrick's Day while studying in Ireland.

Go to a Parade or Festival

St. Patrick’s Day festivals and markets enjoy a long history in Ireland, dating back to the 1600s. Today, international students can attend the multi-day St. Patrick’s Festival in Dublin, where over a million people enjoy music, dance, theatre, and a signature parade every year. The city of Cork also holds a festival with street performers, music, and lots of tasty food. Celebrations happen throughout the country, so watch for event announcements on social media, or on campus.

While you can watch a parade in many communities this St. Patrick’s Day, it’s actually a tradition that Ireland adopted from North America. These parades were started by Irish emigrants to the United States, first in Florida in 1601 and then in cities like Boston, Chicago, and New York City, where the first official St. Patrick’s Day parade was recorded in 1762. 

The parades celebrated Irish culture and united Irish immigrants from different walks of life. In their early days, they were also a show of solidarity in response to anti-Catholic sentiment faced by the Irish community. A century later, after the American Civil War (in which thousands of Irish-American soldiers fought), non-Irish Americans joined the parades. It wasn’t until 1903 that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Ireland, but now lots of cities have parades to celebrate. 

Tip: If you’re looking for a more traditional celebration, try visiting a smaller rural community. You’ll likely find an event with traditional music, dancing, and even horse races.

Ready to go? If you’re from one of these 70+ countries, you don’t need a student visa to study abroad in Ireland.

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Avoid These Awkward Moments

Don’t Pinch People 

While wearing green is welcome, don’t pinch people who aren’t wearing green. The pinch is a North American tradition, not an Irish one, and might lead to an uncomfortable situation where you have to explain yourself very quickly. (Generally, don’t touch anyone, pinch or not, without their knowledge and consent.)

Dress Appropriately

Dress for the weather: March in Ireland can be chilly and rainy. Wear layers, and bring an umbrella or raincoat with you.

Wearing green or a shamrock accessory is pretty common. However, please don’t wear the Irish flag as a dress (you’ll get really cold), or dress up as a leprechaun, or a sexy leprechaun. At best you’ll look touristy and costume-y, at worst every Irish person in the pub will hate you a little.

Carry Cash

Have some cash on hand before March 17 if you’re going to go out. Banks are closed on St. Patrick’s Day, and ATM lines are going to be really long. Note that some pubs will have a minimum spend for credit cards, and if you’re planning to take a taxi cab as transit, many only take cash.

Avoid Same-Day Travel into Cities

Don’t try to travel into a city like Dublin, Cork, or Limerick on St. Patrick’s Day while studying in Ireland. Some roads will be closed, and the roads still open will be packed. Try to get in a day or two before the holiday. If you can, find a place to stay near the festivities, so you can walk as much as possible. 

Words Matter

If you want to be casual, call the holiday St. Paddy’s Day or Paddy’s Day, not St. Patty’s Day. “Patty” is short for Patricia, not Patrick. Also, avoid any potato jokes or attempts to imitate an Irish accent. It won’t be well-received.

Spending St. Patrick’s Day in North America? Here are some fun holiday ideas.

An illustration of a pint of beer - likely a golden or pale ale. The beer foam is rendered fancifully.

Raise a Toast

You probably won’t find green beer in Ireland, except in tourist bars, but it’s still traditional to enjoy a pint on March 17. However, before the 1960s, people would celebrate at home or when visiting friends, as the pubs were all closed on St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, between 1927–1961, the only public place where you could get a drink in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day was the Royal Dublin Dog Show. Let’s just say, back then, many folks attended who were only interested in dog shows for one day a year!

Instead of green beer, try a local beer or cider. Brewing in Ireland, per The Brewery Bible, has a 5,000 year history dating back to the earliest farming of Irish barley. Guinness and Beamish are the most famous breweries, but Ireland is also home to over 75 independent microbreweries. St. Paddy’s is a great day to give one or two local beers a try. 

Tip: Prefer not to drink alcohol, or you’re the designated driver? Join the toasting with a locally-made (and delicious) non-alcoholic option.


Image Credit: Scott Dexter, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a Hearty Meal

While Irish-American families would eat corned beef and cabbage to celebrate, historically, families in Ireland didn’t eat beef as often. They were more likely to keep cows for milk production. More traditional meals include bacon, potatoes, and cabbage, or lamb stew served with colcannon (butter mashed potatoes with cabbage mixed in). Meat and fish pies like shepherd’s pie, cod pie, or Guinness and beef pie are also popular options.

Preparing for a long day ahead? Try an Irish Fry for breakfast (see the picture above): eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, potatoes, and sausages or bacon fried up in a cast-iron skillet.

Wondering about other popular meals around the world? We’ve counted down the top foods for international students to try in the United Kingdom, Australia, and North America.

We hope that these suggestions for things to do on St. Patrick’s Day while studying in Ireland help you plan a great holiday. From quiet to adventurous, there’s a celebration waiting for every kind of student.

Learn more about studying abroad in Ireland with ApplyBoard’s student guide.


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