The Best St. Patrick’s Day Traditions from Ireland, Chicago and The Birches

Written by Jenny Smiechowski, staff writer for The Birches

Ever wonder how St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland compare to celebrations in the U.S.? Just ask Birches resident Anne Marie Hickey.

Anne Marie was born in Ireland and immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager. Even though she’s been a U.S. resident for decades now, she still remembers exactly how she celebrated St. Patrick’s Day when she was a child in Ireland.

“In my day, St. Patrick’s Day was a holy holiday,” said Anne Marie. “We went to church and we had dinner with family.”

Based on how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated here in the States, you might assume that Anne Marie’s family had corned beef and cabbage for dinner. And you’d be half right.

“We didn’t eat corned beef in Ireland.” said Anne Marie. “We had ham, cabbage, turnip, and boiled or roasted potatoes.”

Once Anne Marie moved to the U.S. as a teenager, she participated in many of the St. Patrick’s Day traditions that Irish Americans (and really, all Americans) enjoy in March.

“In America, I had corned beef. I’d go to the parade. I’d go out socially,” said Anne Marie.

After she had kids, Anne Marie would make a special St. Patty’s Day dinner, which always included Irish soda bread. She would also make cookies and bring them to her kids’ school.

“There were a lot of people from Ireland at the Catholic school my kids went to, so St. Patrick’s Day was always a big celebration.”

Even though Anne Marie had the opportunity to experience St. Patrick’s Day both in Ireland and the States, there are plenty of Irish Americans at The Birches who can’t imagine spending St. Patrick’s Day anywhere but Chicago. Like Darcy Kelleher.

Darcy’s grandparents immigrated from Ireland, giving Darcy and her parents the opportunity to be part of Chicago’s rich Irish culture. Darcy practiced Irish dance as a child. And as an adult, she even taught Irish dance to children at a local park district.

Darcy’s favorite St. Patrick’s Day traditions in Chicago are the parades. She used to attend the parade downtown, as well as the parade on the South Side. She even danced and twirled batons in the parades when she was younger. She loves eating corned beef and cabbage and making Irish soda bread on St. Patrick’s Day too.

Here at The Birches, we also have a special St. Patrick’s Day tradition we’re proud to share. It goes back a few years now…. although, it’s tied to a Chicago St. Patrick’s Day tradition that goes back over six decades! Every year, we dye our pond green with the help of the Butler family.

The Butler family has been dyeing the Chicago river green since the early 1960s. And after Butler family patriarch Mike Butler came to live at The Birches in 2016, they made us a part of this important St. Patrick’s Day tradition. Unfortunately, Mike passed away in the summer of 2016, but his family continues to visit The Birches every St. Patrick’s Day to dye our pond that beautiful emerald green that Chicagoans know so well from the Chicago River.

So, whether you’re Irish or not, join in the St. Patrick’s Day fun this year by practicing old traditions or making new ones. Eat corned beef and cabbage with family. Head through the drive-thru for a Shamrock Shake. Meet your friends after work for a tall, cold Guinness. Or stop by The Birches to watch our pond go green for the fourth year in a row. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!