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Our Guide to St Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Madison

March 13th, 2014

While St. Patrick's Day has become more or less a drinking holiday here in the States, there are still those of us with irish heritage that want to imbibe in all things Emerald Isle that day, not just Guinness. Don't get me wrong, like any good Irish lass I enjoy a pint of Arthur's finest (which contrary to popular belief is lower in alcohol and has fewer calories than most beer), but I also want to listen to traditional Celtic music  – or “trad' as they call it in Ireland, watch the dancers with their wild curly hair, eat colcannon and, if time allows, watch an Irish movie with my kids. The Secret of Kells is an animated classic that we love. 

Thankfully, Madison caters to all things Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. The most obvious celebration is the 17th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade (benefitting the UW Carbone Cancer Center and Coaches vs Cancer) which takes place on Sunday, March 16th at 1:30pm on the Capitol Square. But it’s so much more than just a parade! The celebrating actually starts at 10am where participants in the Shamrock Shuffle, many who are enthusiastic wearers of the green, so to speak, meet at the Overture Center for a 5K or 10K run or a 2K walk. The proceeds from the race entry fees benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. Following the race, at 12:00pm the Irish flag is raised at the Capitol Rotunda with the official bag piper (yes, there is an official bag piper) there to set the scene. Just before the parade, at 1:00pm, revelers gather at the corner of Wisconsin and Mifflin for a costume contest where awards are handed out for things like “most freckles”, “best-dressed dog” and “reddest hair.” At 1:30 the actual parade kicks off with lots of VIPs in convertibles, candy-throwing Irish clans and unicyclists in red beards followed by musicians wearing pink bunny suits (Don’t ask. Some traditions have no explanation.) 

If that’s not enough for you, you have post-parade options, too. The first one is the St. Pat’s Eve Celebration immediately following the parade (3pm) at Brink Lounge. It benefits the Celtic Cultural Center and includes music and dancers until 7pm. The entry fee for those 12 years and older is $5. Another event, the St.Pat’s Parade Afterparty is taking place at High Noon Saloon where “The Pints” will be playing at 3pm. There’s a $5 cover charge. 

As for where to go for lunch or dinner, there are a few irish-focused places that will definitely be erin go braghing. Brocach, with one location on the Capitol Square and another on Monroe Street, The Claddagh Irish Pub in Middleton, and Erin’s Snug Irish Pub on American Parkway. Coopers Tavern, also on the Square, will be packed with those searching for good stouts and Celtic-inspired fare. No doubt many Madison restaurants, like The Great Dane, Avenue Bar and Jacs, will be featuring corned beef and cabbage (the former not being a traditional Irish food, but that’s beside the point,) too. 

If you’re not ready to put away the shamrocks and shillelaghs just yet, the fun continues on the 17th. As it should. The High Noon Saloon is also offering a family-friendly concert featuring Irish rock band “The Kissers” from 5:30 – 7pm.  The cover charge for that show is $5 per person or $10 for a family. By 8pm “The Kissers” move into their apparently non family-friendly show and will play on into the evening. Having been to a few of their concerts I can say it’s a very good time, but when the whiskey starts flowing it’s definitely time to pack up the kids and take them home. Other music options on the 17th are “the Currach Irish Trio” at the Harmony at 7pm and Great Dane is featuring a 4pm happy hour show with “Killarney Blarney.”

There’s certainly no shortage of ways to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day in Madison. But the irish spirit is much more than a day of parade going and cabbage eating. So I leave you with this: