Paddy’s Day in the capital

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations in London

Sunday March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day. Now, there are Irish folk all over the UK, and celebrations will be taking place all across the country, with parades and performances in Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds. But the biggest party of all will be happening in the capital, with 110,000 be-greened revellers descending upon Trafalgar Square for the annual festivities. So if you’re in the mood for a party there’s no better time to visit the capital. So paint a shamrock on your face and get down to the Big Smoke for what may be the biggest and best toast yet to venerable old Paddy!

It’s thought that around 5 million pints of Guinness will be drunk in the UK this Paddy’s Day, so what better way to start than with a pint of the black stuff at a proper Irish boozer. Just a Blarney stone’s throw from King’s Cross St Pancras, The Boot on Cromer Street is the real deal, a brave stalwart against the tide of gentrification sweeping the area. Charles Dickens himself once propped up the bar here (you can visit his house around the corner on Doughty Street), and The Boot served as the unofficial HQ of The Pogues in their salad days (though judging by Shane MacGowan’s teeth, we’re sceptical as to how much veg was actually consumed back then). With hurley sticks and other GAA memorabilia to admire, plus a free buffet on the bar, you couldn’t ask for a better welcome.

Speaking of sport, it’s the last weekend of the Six Nations on Saturday March 16. With the Irish playing Italy in a decisive battle for third place, you can cheer on the boys in green and white at Waxy O’ Connor’s in Piccadilly – a cavernous, theme-park of a pub (complete with colossal fibre-glass tree) that may be more ‘Oirish’ than authentic but which is still a raucous and unpretentious hangout, with live music in the evenings. If you’re in the West End and looking for a decent low-key alternative to the rugby, The Toucan, just off Soho Square, is a temple to the black stuff, with over 250 years worth of inimitable Guinness advertising adorning the walls. It’s also a hallowed site in London’s rock & roll heritage, for that honorary Irishman Jim O’ Hendrix once played in the Touc’s tiny basement.

It wouldn’t be Paddy’s Day without a bit of traditional music, and the Auld Shillelagh in Stoke Newington is one of the places in to whip out the bodhrán and tin whistle. With suited-and-booted barmen direct from the Emerald Isle who take their stout seriously, this narrow Church Street institution can also claim with some confidence to serve “North London’s best pint of Guinness”.

Paddy’s Day isn’t all about the booze. As we know, Ireland has produced an inordinately astonishing amount of literary geniuses. You can pay homage to some of the greats who’ve settled on this side of the Irish Sea. Just a hop down the northern line in Primrose Hill, you’ll find the sometime childhood home of WB Yeats, later occupied by one Sylvia Plath. Continuing your pilgrimage, head west to Holland Park in Kensington & Chelsea where you’ll find the house where James Joyce lived, while on Tite Street, just off Chelsea Embankment, lies the former home of Ireland’s most eminent wit, Oscar Wilde. Why not top off your tour in true Wildean decadence by heading to The Cow in Westbourne Grove for oysters and Guinness.

Heading back into central London, The Harp in Covent Garden is a mecca for ale drinkers, especially since CAMRA voted it Pub of the Year 2010–2011. With its distinctive green frontage, Victorian portraits and stained glass, you could almost be in Temple Bar (albeit a less pricey version).  Best of all, it’s just round the corner from Trafalgar Square so you can join in this Sunday’s festivities. The St. Patrick’s Day parade will set off from Piccadilly at noon and this year features marching bands, Irish dancing and giant inflatable dragon. There’s also a comedy tent hosted by the London Irish Comedy Festival and even an Irish food market.

Wherever you choose to celebrate St Patrick’s Day this weekend, the craic will be mighty in London for sure, with a resounding Céad Míle Fáilte to one and all.

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