Mar 15, 2012

5 Alternatives to the NYC Parade this Paddy's Day Weekend

I'm not sure when I fell out of love with St. Patrick's Day parades. Perhaps it was the year I had to cartwheel through the town of Ennis (three whole streets!) with a ripped leotard and a scratchy St. Patrick's Day badge slapping me on the face with every turn. Or maybe it was more recent visits to the New York City parade, where I found myself wishing I could cartwheel away from its kiss-me-I'm-Irishness and slap myself in the face for feeling annoyed. Chances are I'm just getting ornery in my old age and I don't want to fight for a patch of sidewalk, regardless of how much I enjoy New York City's finest in formation. Anyway, at some point along the way, I replaced New York City's parade of banners and bands with my own unmarshalled parade of bangers, bacon, mushrooms, and pudding. 

Yes, I'm perfectly happy to just mark the day with a hearty Irish breakfast ... and a batch of scones for lunch ... and beef and stout stew for dinner ... and chocolate Guinness cupcakes for dessert. Once in a while, I'll try too hard and visit the Irish Famine Memorial (and feel guilty with my fattened belly), or not try at all and go to a friend's St. Patrick's Day party. One of these days I'll pay eight-hundred-dollars-an-hour to find out why I struggle so much with this holiday. Until then, I thought I'd share a few before/after/instead-of the parade ways to celebrate St. Patricks' Day weekend in NYC:

1. Ireland V's England Rugby 

Ireland plays beats England this weekend so dig out your Irish rugby jerseys and get your authentic Irish up! In the past, I've watched rugby games at the Red Lion on Bleecker Street and enjoyed a decent breakfast along with a decent pint and decent crowd. The last time I watched a game here I bought a couch on the way home—don't say I didn't warn you. My brother plans to watch the game at Jack Dempsey's with a bunch of Irish lads (heads up ladies!), so I'm assuming that's a good place to gather, too. If you're in Brooklyn, consider the SheepStation in Park Slope; you can't get less cheesy than spending St. Patrick's Day in an Australian bar. For more options, check out Note: The game starts at 1PM, but you'll need to show up a few hours early to secure a good corner/get warmed up.

2. Visit a Museum 
Servant's Quarters at the Merchant's House Museum
Okay, so I know a museum is not the first (second or third) thing that pops to mind when planning your St. Patricks Day in New York City, but exploring the history of Irish in New York, and the States, can really help color, and balance, your St. Patrick's Day experience. It might even give you something interesting to talk about in the bar later that day, and something to think about when you look at the sea of green and consider how far we've come—from "No Irish Need Apply" to "Kiss Me I'm Irish!"

  • A visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum offers a glimpse of life for an Irish family, the Moores, in New York in the 1860s. For a deeper immigrant experience, take one of the museum's walking tours of the neighborhood.
  • The Merchant’s House Museum is New York City’s only family home preserved intact—inside and out—from the 19th century. On St. Patrick's Day, the museum will open it's fourth-floor Servant's Quarters, closed for renovations since the fall.  Labeled "the oldest intact example of Irish inhabitation in New York City" by Time Out New York, the walls in this rarely seen space tell the story of Irish women who fled poverty and starvation at home to find a better life for themselves and their family in mid-19th century New York.
  • Take the ferry to Ellis Island. Ellis can seem like an undertaking, especially if you've ever noticed the lines for the ferry, but 1. the lines are not so bad this time of year (compared to summer), 2. they move quickly, and 3. hopefully every other tourist will be elbowing their way to fifth avenue while you cruise past the Statue of Liberty to the museum at Ellis Island, imagining the journey of your forefathers. Head off on an early sailing and you still have the rest of the day to toast your heritage. Heads up: much of the Ellis Island experience is in your head.  Seriously. Don't miss out on opportunities like lining up for the ferry and security, sailing past the Statue of Liberty, seeing the Manhattan skyline in the distance (so near and yet so far), and then entering the building with a throng of other visitors, to fuel your understanding of what it must have been like for early immigrants. I wish the ferry ride was less about strategizing the best spot to photograph the Statue of Liberty, and more about placing visitors in the correct mindset to fully appreciate the experience, but it's only $12 so you have to do the work yourself. Ellis Island's free film, along with the audio tours, are helpful in painting a picture, and be sure to check out the museum's new Peopling of America exhibit (on the ground floor), where you can gain a broader understanding of immigration in America—as contentious a topic today as it ever was. Ps. I went once on St. Patrick's Day and there were Irish dancers in the Great Hall.
  • The Irish Hunger Memorial at the corner of Vesey and North End Avenue is literally a little piece of Ireland planted in Lower Manhattan. Artist Brian Tolle's design consists of an early 19th-century stone cottage, transplanted from County Mayo, Ireland, and now sitting on a raised field at the end of a pathway of thirty-two stones. It's a poignant and moving reminder, and a little weight in all the Paddy's Day mirth. Heads up: Occupy Wall Street was denied permission (by the Battery Park City Committee) to stage an event at the memorial this St. Patrick's Day but there is a small chance they may gather  there without a permit. 

3. Head to an Irish Neighborhood

It's too late to order an Irish hamper and too much of a nuisance to make your own Irish pudding, so why not head to an Irish neighborhood like Woodlawn in the Bronx, or Sunnyside in Queens, and have your Irish breakfast, lunch, and dinner, too, with Irish people who can't be arsed with the crowds/green bagels in Manhattan. I lived in Woodlawn for a few years when I first arrived from Ireland so I'm partial to a visit there. Take the 4 train to Woodlawn, and then a cab/the bus from across the street. Save Woodlawn's famous cemetery for another day and keep things lively with a good feed of rashers and pudding at the Irish Coffee Shop on McLean. If you'd like a pint with your cabbage (you'll be sorry later) Rory Dolan's—also on McLean—and The Rambling House on Katonah are hotspots for locals; you'll find live music, food all day, and you can watch the rugby here, too. The bars in Woodlawn will be packed so remember that the early bird gets the barstool. Also, don't forget to hit one of the local shops/delis to stock up on Irish tea-bags, Taytos, biscuits, and sweets before you leave.

4. Make a weekend of it with the Irish Arts Center
The Irish Arts Center will be kicking off the St. Patricks' Day weekend with their second annual Irish Book Day on Friday, March 16. Book Day volunteers will be stationed across the city, and in the outer boroughs, handing out free books by Irish authors. I volunteered last year and this is a really fun and uncheesy way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day; they always need volunteers so get in touch at their FB page or follow them on FB or Twitter to find out where you can get some Irish reads.

Incorporate a little contemporary Irish theater into your weekend by catching the final shows of I ♥ Alice ♥ I , written and directed by Amy Conroy, at the Irish Arts Center on St. Patrick's Day. Described as "humorous, affecting and quietly empowering work that fully convinces in its artful facsimile of real people sharing experiences both ordinary and precious" by the New York Times. 

Sunday, March 18, is open day at the Irish Arts Center. Swing by for live performances, crafts for kids, and music and language workshops, etc.

Your bartender will get plenty of other donations this weekend so why not donate your dollars to the Irish Arts Center to support Irish artists and promote Irish culture. 

5. Once The Musical

If you loved Irish Indie movie and mega-hit, Oncethe story of a Dublin musician and a Czech immigrant who are drawn together by their shared love of music, you might want to check out the Broadway musical version of Once on Broadway this weekend, by director John Tiffany, choreographer Steven Hoggett, and Irish playwright Enda Walsh. While Glen Hansard is not onstage (sniffle, sniffle), rest assured that he was very hands-on with the production.  
The show has been off-Broadway for a bit but you can catch its opening night on Broadway, Sunday March 18 at 6.30PM ... and fall in love once again.

If you can't resist the pull of the parade, be sure to clap extra loud for the County Down Association, or—if you're feeling really motivated—go ahead and march for County Down. My friend Siobhán has been tolerating cheers of "Up Down!" on Fifth Avenue for years now, along with her lovely parents, and she's always looking for marchers, or rather—well-dressed marchers. If you'd like a new vantage point for the parade, check Down out on FB
Have a great weekend!

1 comment:

emeraldpie said...

I'm glad to say the Ennis parade has moved on since your gymnastic moves along the streets. Take a look at the photos on my blog!

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