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St Patrick's Day in San Francisco

Author: Fiona Maclean

One morning I opened the curtains and before me, decorating the streets down below, was a sea of green banners. I took the elevator downstairs to ask concierge what was going on.

'Good morning, young lady. What can I do for you?’

'Good morning, sir. What’s happening with the green everywhere?’

'Why it’s St Patrick’s Day. Every pub will be serving green beer and the music of Ireland will be played throughout the city.' He smiled at me.

'Should we go?’

'You definitely need to go – you and your husband. Take yourself down to Main Street and watch the St Patrick’s Day parade. And don’t forget to dress in green!’


'Yes, indeed. You have never seen anything like it in your life. Be sure to put on your best Irish (or Scottish) accent so that everyone you meet, can hug the life out of you!’

'Wow, sounds like something we should do!’

'How long are you here for?’

'Probably another three or four years. My husband has a job in the US and we intend to see as much as we can.’

'Well before you leave the you must go to Chicago on St Patrick’s Day to see the river running green.’

'Sounds amazing!’

Like most Americans we had met the concierge was kind, helpful, with genuine interest and guidance.

We shopped in town and I treated myself to green velvet flairs. Will bought a flashing green bow tie and a dazzling green shirt. We were ready to go!

We stood in the crowd lining the streets. The street traders were serving: green buns, green beer, green cheese.

Colourful banners lined Main Street. Maps of Ireland and pictures of leprechauns were everywhere. The whole city was awash with emerald green.

First in the parade were the dancers. Light and airy, they skipped along to the music of an Irish band. Row upon row of dancers stepped it out, looking winsome in their traditional outfits. Some were children, others fifty or more – they had been doing this all their lives. They waved green ribbons and flags.

Next came the bands. Hundreds of musicians playing: pipes and drums, brass trumpets and trombones, accordions and, last but not least, flutes.

Accompanying the band was a chorus of singers in Irish costumes. They sang, 'If you’re Irish come into the parlour… ’ The crowd sang along with them. It was a sound which would touch the hardest heart. My soul filled with joy and delight.

The largest group in the parade was the police force. They looked tough. Some had hand guns and, others, rifles. They marched along with their own brass band to a military tune.

Stomp, stomp, stomp

Crash, crash, crash,

Went their boots on the pavement.

One or two of them, just to give a little levity to the occasion, broke out into a jig, to the ecstatic screams of the crowd. Apparently, we discovered later, most of the US police force had descended from Irish immigrants in the 1840’s.

In fact, millions of Irish men, women and children escaped famine by emigrating to America in the middle of the nineteenth century. Later, three million more Irish landed in the US to have a better life and twenty-two of them became president.

The parade went on for a few hours. An enthusiastic crowd had gathered enjoying green beer and whiskey. As it grew dark, outdoor tables and chairs appeared in front of the shops and pubs.

'Sit down, drink Guinness and have some Irish stew and dumplings,' a waiter invited us. He turned to me and said, 'You look very “St Paddy” in the green flairs, dear. Love them!’

'Why thank you – I had to look the part.’

A woman close by heard our accents and asked, 'Hey you guys, you two sound Irish. Are you Irish?’

I replied, 'Well, my maiden name was McConnell and yes, my great-grandparents came from Ireland to Scotland. But we are Scottish.' (I was quite shy about my Irish ancestry, as my father had said, 'They were starving. They would sleep in the streets and take any job as they were so desperately poor.’)

'Well, Ireland, Scotland, it’s all the same, isn’t it?’

‘Well… not really!’

'Welcome, sweethearts!' The woman said. 'I’m Maura, sit down with us. We love the Irish in San Francisco. Most of the folks at this table have ancestors from the old country.’

Gladly, we sat with the group. The “craic” was enjoyable. They told Irish jokes, most of them concerning “Paddy and Murphy”. We reciprocated with a few Scottish one-liners.

The crowd spaced out and the music died down. Folk started singing. We sang well-known Scottish songs: the lilting 'Loch Lomond’, the joyous 'Flower of Scotland’ and the enigmatic 'Wild Mountain Thyme’.

They sang Irish songs which everyone knew: the sad 'Danny Boy’, the raucous, 'Wild Rover’ and the sweet, 'Molly Malone’.

We sang in Scottish Gaelic: the mad, crazy, 'Brochan Lom’ and the melodious, 'Fear a Bhata’.

Suddenly, everyone was spellbound. We noticed a crowd had gathered. I lost my confidence. 'Let’s go,' I whispered to Will.

'This has been a blast but we need to go,' my husband apologised to our new Irish-American friends, swearing to keep in touch in the future, while we swapped email addresses.

To me, he muttered, 'Let’s go before the cops descend on this place.’

We hugged and said our goodbyes. It was certainly a celebration to be remembered for the rest of our lives. We’d not forget this St Patrick’s Day.