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Group of people cheering and waving Irish flags during the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City. (Reuters / Corbis)

Unusual St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

Leprechauns and green shamrocks are only a part of celebrating St. Patrick's Day for Irish communities around the world

smithsonian.com

Since the early 17th-century St. Patrick’s Day has been one of celebration. Each March, cities and towns pay tribute to the Emerald Isle – Chicago dyes its river a glowing green and New York City draws two million spectators to its parade. And as local customs meld with leprechauns, shamrocks and bagpipes, communities around the world are adding a new twist to traditional St. Patrick’s Day festivities.

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1) Hot Springs, Arkansas

The world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day parade may also be the quirkiest. Across the 98-foot-long Bridge Street, labeled in the 1940s as the “Shortest Street in the World” by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, march a cast of characters, including the Famous San Diego Chicken, Irish Elvis impersonators and the Lards of the Dance, a troupe of middle-aged Irish dancers. This year’s events also feature the world’s shortest wedding ceremony at under a minute, as well as the “Romancing the Stone” competition, in which the parade-goer with the most original kiss for an impromptu Blarney stone wins a $100 prize. Also making an appearance, Dr. Albert Habeeb, who at 95 years old is the self-proclaimed “World’s Oldest Leprechaun.”

“It's not devoted to a bunch of blarney about being Irish,” says Paul Johnson, spokesman for the six-year-old parade. “It’s devoted to having fun.”

2) Montserrat, Caribbean Sea

Considered the other Emerald Isle, Montserrat is the only other place outside of Ireland that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday. A small percentage of the Caribbean island’s nearly 4,500 people are descended from Irish Catholic settlers. March 17 also marks the anniversary of a 1768 slave uprising on the island. Though the revolt was unsuccessful, Montserrat abolished slavery in 1834.

“What makes Montserrat so unique is it has an equally Irish and African heritage,” says island spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson. “It fuses the cultures in perfect harmony.” During the weeklong St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, steel drum bands play, Creole breakfast is served and residents take part in a Freedom Run, which commemorates the emancipation of both Irish indentured servants and African slaves.

3) O’Neill, Nebraska

At the intersection of Route 281 and Highway 20, the world’s largest shamrock, a large green clover painted in the middle of the road, reminds visitors to O’Neill that the community of 39,000 is the official Irish capital of Nebraska. John O’Neill, the town’s namesake, was a native Irishman and veteran of the Civil War and strong proponent of Irish immigration to the Plains state. He wrote pamphlets and distributed them to immigrants working the Appalachian coal mines, heralding the virtues of owning and farming tracts of land.

Each St. Patrick’s Day, the town celebrates its Irish forebears with an odd array of festivities that include a hypnotist, fish fry and Children’s Literature Festival featuring the reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham.” The installation of a huge Blarney stone on the southwest corner of the shamrock intersection will be one of this year’s highlights. “In March, everyone just steps a little higher and smiles a little broader,” says City of Commerce member Pat Fritz.

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