St. Patrick’s Day celebration for all ages marks its 40th anniversary

Saint Paul’s Saint Patrick’s Day parade has always been a family event, with the city’s various Irish clans marching behind banners emblazoned with the families’ names.

“When the parade was re-created in the late 1960s, people would take their kids out of school and come downtown for the parade,” recalled Jan Casey, a member of the board of Irish Arts Minnesota. By the following decade, however, the festivities around the parade had begun to attract a lot of drinking. “If you had your kids with you, you weren’t going to go,” Casey said.

Irish Arts
Irish Arts Minnesota board member Bridget Dinter, vice president Jan Casey and president Amber Ladany gathered inside Landmark Center to highlight the organization’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration and Irish Day of Dance to be held on Friday and Sunday, March 17 and 19, respectively. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Then, in the early ’80s, Saint Paul author Erin Hart “approached the folks at Landmark Center and said, ‘There really should be a family-friendly celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day,’” Casey recalled.

Thus was born the Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration, a cultural program first presented in 1983 by Irish Arts Minnesota (IAM), then a new organization dedicated to the traditional arts of Ireland. Forty years later, IAM will return to Landmark Center with seven hours of Irish music, dance and other cultural programming from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, March 17.

Four stages of Irish music and dance

This year’s Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration will offer four stages of Irish music and dance with more than two dozen different acts. Irish goods and handicrafts will be displayed for show and sale. Seminars will be conducted on Celtic poetry, Irish seafaring songs and the Irish language. Out of the Mist Celtic Theatre will mount a drama on the life of Saint Patrick. Traditional Irish food and beverages will be served, and hands-on activities will be available for children in Irish music, dance and storytelling.

Don and Sherry Ladig of Merriam Park will be back with Dunquin. The trio includes Don on flute and whistles, Sherry on keyboard and Rosa Wells on fiddle. “We play the traditional dance tunes and slow airs of Ireland,” Sherry said. “The Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration is one of our most joyful gigs of the year. It’s a great way to honor the Irish heritage of Saint Paul.”

New twists on Celtic music

New this year will be a performance by Irish Diplomacy, a jazz-infused Celtic band that plays both original and traditional Irish music with a twist. Also new is the ensemble of David and Suzanne Rhees and Tim O’Keefe, who will perform a blend of Irish and Brazilian music.

“In the case of Ireland, the culture is not static. If you look at what we consider traditional Irish music, it’s not really staying the same. It continues to change and modify and grow.”


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A separate Day of Irish Dance

With the growing interest in Irish dance locally, “we don’t have enough stage time for all of the groups who want to perform at Landmark Center, so we created a separate Day of Irish Dance,” Casey said. This year that will be presented from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 19, also at Landmark Center. “We’ll have two stages with more than 600 dancers from 11 different dance schools and organizations,” Casey said.

You don’t have to be Irish to embrace the Emerald Isle’s cultural heritage, according to Casey, a Macalester-Groveland resident. “My husband is Irish,” she said. “I used to say that I was Irish by marriage, but then I found an Irish great-great grandmother.”

The Irish connection

Casey first volunteered with IAM at the urging of her husband, who was involved in the Irish Fair of Minnesota. “IAM was completely new then, and I didn’t know enough to know what I couldn’t do,” she said. “They’ve been very tolerant.”

Bridget Dinter of Highland Park has been an IAM board member since 2021. “Almost half of my heritage is Irish,” Dinter said. “My grandmother is full-blooded Irish. She’d call me every Saint Patrick’s Day to make sure I was celebrating. One Saint Patrick’s Day, I decided I wanted to understand more, so I looked around and saw Irish dance opportunities for adults who had never done it.”

Somebody Dinter danced with was on the IAM board. That person alerted her to an open position on the board, and “I took it,” she said.

Saint Patrick’s Day and beyond

IAM has a trifold purpose, Dinter said: to celebrate Irish-American arts and culture, create connections with other cultural communities and inspire an appreciation for the history and heritage of Ireland. Beyond the Saint Patrick’s Day events, she said, “IAM has a very important mission. It reaches out and pulls everything together for the Irish arts and culture here.”

Dinter serves as editor of the IAM newsletter, which highlights the offerings of other Irish-American organizations. “The newsletter has a Gaelic corner to teach you the language,” she said. “There’s a book review, and there are songs with the words and music.”

IAM awards scholarships for individuals wishing to further their study of Irish dance, music, theater, literature or language. Casey and Dinter are also proud of the IAM Honors Event, which each year recognizes an individual for outstanding contributions to Irish arts and culture.

Honoring the traditions of Ireland

“Preserving and promoting cultural traditions adds flavor to life,” Dinter said. “It helps connect us with our history. I love imagining my great-grandparents playing the same kind of music and doing the same kind of dancing that I’m doing.”

“Keeping Irish traditions alive is part of the richness of the city,” Casey said. “Those connections with ancestral roots are so valuable. The other important thing is that, in the case of Ireland, the culture is not static. If you look at what we consider traditional Irish music, it’s not really staying the same. It continues to change and modify and grow. And the creativity of that, the energy of that, is really positive.”

Admission to the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration and to the Irish Day of Dance is $9, $7 for seniors and children ages 6-17. For reservations or more information, visit

— Anne Murphy


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