‘Beannachtai na Feile Padraig dhuit!’: Irish community reinvents traditions to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day


Pamela Smith | Staff Photographer

Rince na gCathrach Cruach, Pitt’s Irish dance team, performed outside of the Cathedral of Learning on Sunday in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

By Colm Slevin, Staff Writer

St. Patrick’s Day, a day of celebration and fun for many, will look much different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Though the pandemic postponed the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Pittsburgh and many of the other ways people would normally spend the day, members of the Irish community have managed to find ways to celebrate their heritage. The Irish Nationality Room committee and Rince na gCathrach Cruach, the Pitt Irish dance team, are some of the local organizations who have put together new programs in order to celebrate the holiday.

Maria Cristina Lagnese, a community relations and scholarship administrator at Pitt and a part of the Nationality Rooms program, said the Irish Room committee decided to do something virtual this year.

“This year, because it’s kind of not possible [to go out and celebrate with the Irish community],” Lagnese said, “[the Irish Room committee] said, ‘let’s do our own St. Patrick’s Day, and let’s ask the community and our friends to give us videos and join in.’ But prior to this, they would go out and join in the fun and celebration.”

The committee started releasing videos on Sunday and will continue up until St. Patrick’s Day. The virtual celebration featured music from Irish artists Bladderack and Steel Clover, videos on the history of Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day, readings of the Book of Kells, which contains the four Gospels in Latin, and a poem about fairies and leprechauns.

According to Lagnese, this is the first time the Irish Nationality Room has hosted a St. Patrick’s Day celebration for at least a decade, but COVID-19 forced the committee to try something new. She said she is excited by the virtual presentation the committee put together.

“I give credit to the Irish Room committee for working really hard and putting this together,”
Lagnese said. “They put a really interesting program together, and I’m just really lucky to be working with people like this who are so into their culture and their history.”

Marie Young, the faculty leader of the Irish language program, grew up in Dublin. Young said back in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day was still a big holiday, but it wasn’t as much of a party.

“It’s a very different atmosphere here than it would be back at home,” Young said. “Growing up at home it was a Catholic feast day, and I was raised Catholic so we would have gone to mass, we didn’t have any school, and for us as children it was our day to break Lent. So it was our day to eat sweets because that’s usually what we gave up.”

Young said her first time celebrating in America was much crazier, but now she usually celebrates by walking in the parade.

“I came to America and ended up at 8 a.m. eating green eggs and drinking green beer in Market Square,” Young said. “It was madness. I’ve never seen the likes of it. Now we always march in the parade, so I’m able to bring [my] boys. I’m able to march in the parade and avoid that madness.”

With the parade being postponed this year, Young had to find a new way to celebrate. She said she is celebrating by going to her son’s class and spending more time with her family.

“Having no parade, it’s such a downer this year,” Young said. “For my two boys, there’s nothing we can do. We can’t even watch the parade on TV since it’s not gonna be on. So it’s hard that way, but we’ll try and celebrate it. I’ll go into my 7-year-old son’s class and I’ll read them a story or something.”

Marie Young is the faculty leader of the Irish language program at Pitt. (Image via University of Pittsburgh)

Mary Grace Mooney, a junior civil engineering major and president of Rince na gCathrach Cruach, said the Irish dance team is shooting a video to the song “I’m Shipping up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys to celebrate this year since the team can’t perform live.

“It’s a few of our girls dressed up around campus, it’s just a little something to have,” Mooney said. “It’s really difficult because most of our activities were canceled and we can’t do our competition that we typically do, so it’s just a little something to do.”

Mooney said before COVID-19, the Irish dance team would go to local Irish pubs and dance to raise money to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

“A lot of people will go around to different bars and dance and kind of pass the hat almost like a fundraiser,” Mooney said. “That’s like traditional funds and doing lots of different shows, sometimes like nursing homes, or restaurants, schools, like, all that kind of thing.”

In her Irish Culture and Traditions class, Young is bringing in Daniel Mulhall, the Irish ambassador to the United States, the Tuesday before St. Patrick’s Day.

“I’m thrilled we’re going to get him in,” Young said. “I think that’d be really nice for them.”

At the end of the day, St. Patrick’s Day is about celebrating Irish culture whether you’re Irish or not, Lagnese said. She added that even though she isn’t Irish, she feels Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and that is what the day is truly all about.

“I’m not Irish. But I have a lot of Irish friends,” Lagnese said. “And I feel a lot of camaraderie with them, they’re inviting me and I feel like they’re opening their hearts to me.”