St. Patrick’s Day, as it is celebrated in America, is not quite the same as it’s celebrated in Ireland. Green beer and milkshakes, corned beef, and sexy leprechauns are all variations that have evolved on our side of the Atlantic. That, and quite a lot of dangerous binge drinking.
If you want to celebrate St. Patrick’s day and Irish heritage but you don’t drink, it can feel alienating when most of the activities seem to revolve around large amounts of alcohol. Luckily, there are lots of ways you can appreciate Irish culture that doesn’t involve booze, parades, or artificial green dyes.
1. Learn about Irish history.
Probably the best way to celebrate a country’s culture is to dive into its history, and Ireland’s is absolutely fascinating. A great starting point is How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, which chronicles Ireland’s role throughout ancient Rome and the medieval period, along with a history of St. Patrick himself. For other reading suggestions, check out Irish Central’s top Irish history books to read this St. Patrick’s Day.
2. Read Irish literature.
I know this is the second suggestion that involves reading but that’s because Ireland’s literature has to be mentioned here. You don’t have to go full-on James Joyce, but I do recommend checking out some of the greats: Oscar Wilde, Edna O’Brien, Jonathan Swift, Elizabeth Bowen, Bram Stoker, and Samuel Beckett. The New York Public Library has a list of books every Irish American should read, and RTÉ has a long list of books that helped define 21st Century Irish literature.
3. Watch Irish films.
Ireland consistently produces award-winning films, and there is never any shortage of talented Irish actors gracing the screens (looking at you, Saoirse). Neil Jordan is one of my favorite Irish directors because his films tell stories about queer people living in violent periods of history, giving a valuable and unique perspective. I’d recommend The Crying Game, his most famous film, Breakfast on Pluto, which is colorful, joyful, and fashion-forward, and Mona Lisa, a complicated gangster love story, which is now considered a classic. His films always have great soundtracks, too. Other movies to check out include the star-studded Intermission, the beautifully animated Secret of the Kells, and the musical comedy, The Commitments, which is one of the most beloved films in Ireland.
4. Check out Irish comedy.
Ireland boasts some of the best and funniest comedians working today and I will shamelessly plug Sharon Horgan because she is one of my favorite actors of all time. Her show Catastrophe is not only a hilarious and starkly honest look at marriage but it also portrays addiction recovery in a realistic way. If you’re into standup comedy, I’d recommend checking out Aisling Bea, Dylan Moran, and Maeve Higgins. If you are looking for a new funny TV show to watch, I’d suggest Derry Girls, This Way Up, Black Books, Moone Boy, and Bridget and Eamon — they are all available on different streaming platforms.
5. Listen to music by Irish artists.
This doesn’t need to be limited to U2 and the traditional Celtic music that grandparents enjoy so much. Some of my favorite artists from Ireland include The Undertones, The Pogues, The Cranberries, and Thin Lizzy, so perhaps give them a try the next time you fire up a Spotify playlist. If you’re feeling tender, you can play the hit “Nothing Compares 2U” by Sinead O’Connor. Her version of the Prince classic may very well be one of the best break-up songs of all time.
6. Learn the Irish language.
If you want to get Irish culture extra credit points, you can try learning to speak the original Irish Celtic language. It isn’t widely spoken in Ireland but it does show up on street signs and occasionally on television, and it will make you look like the biggest smartypants ever. It’s available to learn for free on Duolingo, although personally, I’m more interested in learning about Irish accents…
However you decide to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, doing it sober will already make your day (and tomorrow morning) much better. Speaking of which, Irish breakfast is also pretty delicious.