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More an immigrant holiday, St. Patrick's Day has come home to Ireland (+video)

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(Read caption) St. Patrick's Day parade in Ireland
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Half a million people will parade in Dublin today to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, but since when did Irish people celebrate this holiday?

March 17 has always meant a lot to the Irish diaspora, particularly those who themselves had left the country seeking a better life abroad. It was a day to celebrate Irishness, to reminisce about home, and to stand together in solidarity. Public gatherings, and particularly parades, have always been part of the annual celebration of Irishness.

In recent years, though, St. Patrick's Day has come home: The Irish, the actual Irish in Ireland, now celebrate St. Patrick's Day with as much enthusiasm as their cousins in the US and Britain. Half a million people will take to the streets of Dublin today to watch the parade.

In fact, it's not just St. Patrick's Day, it's now a week-long St. Patrick's Festival. Slick branding, float parades, giant green foam hands, buildings lit in green, fun fairs, stand-up comedy, and street performers: This is not how I remember things.

As a child in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the 1980s, St. Patrick's Day was little more than one of many days of religious observance. Church-goers went to church and wore shamrocks on their lapels, and Irish republicans paraded, much to the chagrin of pro-British unionists. My family was not religious so we didn't do much, though we did pin shamrocks to our jackets.

Later, but still a child, in the Republic of Ireland it was much the same, though the parades were less politically-charged state affairs.

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