You could call St. Patrick´s Day one of the original expat holidays. The celebration as we know it today—the greening of the Chicago River and massive worldwide parades—took shape in the U.S. on March 17, 1762 when an Irish faction of the English military, bolstered by traditional music, marched on New York City in a show of national pride. Nowadays, the holiday has taken hold in such far-flung places as Argentina, where the world´s fifth largest Irish population resides.
The Irish presence here in Prague is nothing to shake a shillelagh at. An unofficial tally of both legal residents and transients in the City of Prague approaches 1,000. Many Czechs have a strong affinity for the Irish due to their shared Celtic roots. For evidence of this, look no further than the presence of Celtic-Czech bands on the local music circuit. Václav Bernard, winner of the Ambassador´s award for contribution to Irish culture and former leader of the local dance troupe Rinceoirí, chronicles the city´s Irish-culture happenings on his web site.
Prague will celebrate Irish heritage throughout the entire month of March—and beyond. In association with the European Summit of Regions and Cities, the Savor Europe event hosts Dublin-based jazz band The Hot Club on the lower Wenceslas Square stage on March 3 (17:00). The Czech Philharmonic´s 2009 Prague Premiere´s Festival, running from March 12-24 at various concert halls around Prague, features six contemporary Irish composers. The annual St. Patrick´s Day mass at the Church of St. Thomas honors the recusant Ogilvie family, Irish refugees of the Flight of the Earls who are encrypted there.
Frank Houghton, owner of Caffrey´s Irish Bar in Old Town, attributes the nation´s popularity to its infectious music and Guinness-swilling good times (craic). “For us to have such a huge presence all over the world is great,” he says. Haughton has been the heart-and-soul of St. Patrick´s Day in Prague since 1993, providing the official soundtrack for the holiday with his Irish Music Festival. The ninth annual fest brings together a rollicking line-up of performers from both Ireland and the Czech lands.
Catch Celtic quintet Dún and Doras, a Czech band that ranks among the top acts in the genre, in all their flute-and-fiddle glory on March 14 (20:00) at Malá Strana pub Baráčnická rychta. You can also find them as part of the Irish Music Festival at Caffrey’s Irish Bar (March 15 at 13:00 and 18 at 20:00), and as the main event on St. Patrick’s Day (21:00) at the Shamrock Irish Pub off Wenceslas Square. An Irish dance group goes on around 2:00.
Most of Prague´s Irish pubs feature live music the week leading up to the holiday. Hear traditional music makers every evening from March 14-17 at Shamrock Pub. Irish band Shannon plays J.J. Murphys on March 16 (20:00); live music (TBD) is scheduled for the evening of March 17. Molly Malone´s books regular, weekend live music, a mix of contemporary and Irish acts. Caffrey´s week-long music showcase kicks off on March 13 on the Caffrrey´s stage and includes Irish troubadour Dave Morrissey, rockers Station 65, instrumentalists Jodavino, and balladeers Celtic Whisper. See the full program here.
Dodge all the Old Town fanfare and head to Vinohrady bar Ballbínka, a quiet venue with a right-on reputation—it´s a favorite haunt of folk-singer Jaroslav Hutka—for Irish band Poitín (March 15) and singer Václav Koubek (March 17) whose last album was backed by the Irish Hogs. Lucerna Music Bar celebrates with the Breton-Celtic sounds of Bran (March 17). Further afoot in Letná, you’ll always find someone on the piano at out-of-the-way Irish Club.
For a more formal affair, The Czech-Irish Business Association hosts its St. Patrick’s Day Gala Dinner and Ball on March 14 (19:00) at the Sacré Coeur Chapel. Expect gourmet eats—it´s catered by the Zatisi Group—and Irish song and dance. Tickets are 1,950 CZK.
May Your Glass Be Ever Full…
For a real taste of Ireland, stick to whiskey and stout and leave the saccharine car bombs to the kids. We´re told that a proper Guinness has a smooth, slightly off-white head and leaves residue on the side of the glass.
O Che´s pours discounted Guinness and Irish whiskey shots on St. Patrick´s Day and, as always, a free drink with lunch. Rivers of green beer will flow at J.J. Murphy´s and Shamrock Pub. The late actor Richard Harris once proclaimed Molly Malone´s Guinness the best pint in Prague. Kilkenny and other Irish brews are on special at Irish pubs around Prague. Library lounge Bar and Books´ weekly Whiskey Tuesday falls on March 17. Imbibe classic Irish whiskeys at palatable prices.
Guinness Stew, Oysters, and More
Caffrey´s special-occasion Irish menu relies on traditional standbys made from quality ingredients: bacon and cabbage in a creamy parsley sauce, rich Guinness beef stew, and wild Irish salmon. Caffrey´s will also cure what ails you the morning after with their proper Irish breakfast (the pub imports its bacon and sausage from Ireland). J.J. Murphy´s cooks up a Sunday roast dinner alongside beef and Guinness casserole and homemade cottage pie.
And don´t forget the 8th annual Czech Republic Oyster Opening Competition next month, on March 11 (14:00). Chefs from leading hotels and restaurants will compete on the Old Town main stage for a trip to Galway, Ireland (home of some of the world´s best oyster beds) to represent the Czech Republic at the 55th annual World Oyster Opening Championship in September. Haughton, who sponsors the event, notes that while the competition is usually linked to the Irish Music Festival, they´ve pushed back the date to coincide with the Easter markets. Five-hundred freshly shucked oysters will be distributed free to the crowd. Is there a more fitting tribute to Ireland than to sample the brine of the Galway Bay?