9 a.m. — “Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit,” says Joe Murphy, which is Gaelic for “Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you.”
Sitting at Celtic Corner in Dartmouth, where even the urinal cakes are green, Murphy and his wife, Cat, are one of a growing crowd of revellers.
The annual Irish holiday is a big event for the 56-year-old Saint Mary’s University Gaelic professor. He recounts how it began as a quiet, religious holiday but then became a celebration in North America.
“It happened here because people were celebrating the fact that they’re Irish. Whereas, in Ireland, of course everybody’s Irish so they don’t really have to celebrate it,” he explains.
For him, it’s a day to celebrate Irish heritage.
Sitting nearby, 72-year-old Steve Carew recounts how his ancestors came from Ireland to Halifax in 1845. Like many others, they came to Canada poor and joined the working class.
“Not that we’re celebrating coming from poverty to good times, but it kind of reflects the spirit that took them along,” he says. “They loved to sing, they loved to dance, they loved the fiddle.”
11 a.m. — On Argyle Street in Halifax, the Irish bar Durty Nelly’s is packed full of people with that certain glow of having drank several beers but not yet eaten lunch.
Knowledge of St. Patrick here is a bit … fuzzier.
“To be honest, I don’t think anyone here knows anything about St. Patrick,” said Dalhousie University student Mike Devlin. “I know he was Irish … that’s all I know, honestly.”
His friend Jon Levy elaborates. “He did good things for the Irish people,” says Levy. “They have potatoes in Ireland. There’s also North Ireland and non-North Ireland. One is an island that’s part of the U.K., one is not, and they fight with each other.
“But pretty much I know that St. Patrick grew potatoes.”
The bar is awash with green top hats, lei necklaces and in one case a hat that seems to be a big, green cabbage. Shirt slogans range from “Kiss me, I’m not Irish” to simply “rub for luck.”
More and more interviews begin to end with “my boss can’t see this, I’m supposed to be at work.”
12:20 p.m. — St. Patrick’s Day at the Old Triangle is an institution. It opens at six in the morning and a lineup gathers soon afterwards. By noon that line has sprawled to over 50 people.
By now the festivities have taken their toll. Heather, from Dartmouth, has been at the bar since seven and is on her eighth drink.
“Well, my grandfather’s Irish. He was from Ireland — for reals! — and I feel like, to honour him, I should go out and get really drunk and have a good time,” she says.
To these people, starting early is an obligation and partying all day is a mandate. “There’s 364 days of practice for this day,” says one reveller named Ken Drew, though his business card depicts him as Pat McCrotch, certified Guinness taster and penny pincher.
Like many others, Drew/McCrotch started the day with an Irish breakfast — a.k.a. breakfast combined with liquor — and will spend the next several hours bar hopping. It’s a day to take having fun seriously, and he shows it by wearing a bright, shimmering green suit.
“It’s huge,” he says of the holiday. “It’s the only day I can wear this f—ing suit.”
1:30 p.m. — Daytime drinking isn’t just for bars. Green-clad students line the so-called student ghetto near Dalhousie and King’s in Halifax.
“I had class that I had to go to this morning. I am studious, but I decided to skip my next one because I have to celebrate my heritage,” said Dalhousie student Taryn McKenna.
McKenna and several friends are relaxing on a second-floor balcony on Walnut Street. At the nearby corner of Preston and Jennings a team of girls just beat a bunch of guys at a flip cup competition and are mocking them.
It’s a bit of a down period. There’s already been one keg party and the itinerary calls for another soon.
Jacqeline Norris of Kingston, Ont., is visiting a friend and an East Coast display of Irish pride for the first time. She likes what she sees.
“I’d never had St. Patrick’s Day in Halifax,” she says. “But it’s way better than St. Patrick’s Day in Ontario.”