History of Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland
The biggest celebrations on the island of Ireland outside Dublin are in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, where Saint Patrick was buried following his death on March 17, 493. In 2004, according to Down District Council, the week-long St. Patrick's Festival had over 2000 participants and 82 floats, bands, and performers, and was watched by over 30,000 people.
The day is celebrated by the Church of Ireland as a Christian festival, Saint Patrick's Day as a celebration of Irish culture was rarely acknowledged by Northern Irish loyalists, this was due to the fact that they had been excluded around the world as only the flag of The Republic of Ireland and symbols which are seen as exclusively Republican were used to represent people celebrating, and this was seen as a festival of Irish republicanism. The Belfast City Council recently agreed to give public funds to its parade for the first time; previously the parade was funded privately. Unlike the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade, which is co-ordinated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Belfast parade is based on equality and only the flag of St. Patrick is supposed to be used as a symbol of the day to prevent it being seen as a time which is exclusively for Republicans and Nationalists. This allowed both Unionists and Nationalists to celebrate the day together, however despite this a few Republicans set up stalls selling Republic of Ireland flags and badges and other republican memorabilia. Most people in Northern Ireland from both Nationalist and Unionist traditions wish to have St. Patrick's day designated a National holiday throughout Northern Ireland, as it is currently only a Bank Holiday.
Since the 1990s, Irish Taoisigh have sometimes attended special functions either on Saint Patrick's Day or a day or two earlier, in the White House, where they present shamrock to the President of the United States. A similar presentation is made to the Speaker of the House. Originally only representatives of the Republic of Ireland attended, but since the mid-1990s all major Political parties in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are invited, with the attendance including the representatives of the Irish government, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Sinn Fein and others. No Northern Irish parties were invited for these functions in 2005. In recent years, it is common for the entire Irish government to be abroad representing the country in various parts of the world. In 2003, the President of Ireland celebrated the holiday in Sydney, the Taoiseach was in Washington, while other Irish government members attended ceremonies in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Savannah, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa, Korea, Japan, and Brazil.
Saint Patrick's Day parades in Ireland date from the late 19th century, originating in the growing sense of Irish nationalism. The first parade did not begin in Ireland but in the United States.