THE special link between Sunderland and Ireland will be strengthened further this weekend.
St Patrick’s Day celebrations on Wearside traditionally mean drinking, dancing and the toasting of all things Irish. But the connections between the two areas point toward a deeper meaning.
March 17 each year is dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland who, according to legend, was responsible for driving snakes out of the Emerald Isle. As part of the celebrations, a number of special themed parties are taking place across the region this weekend.
Both the National Glass Centre and the Stadium of Light are hosting events and a special St Patrick’s Day concert by the Sunderland Symphony Orchestra is taking place at West Park Church on Stockton Road. So how did this very Irish celebration become such a big day on Wearside?
Professor John Strachan, of the North East Irish Culture Network, said: “There have always been strong links between Sunderland and Ireland. As long ago as the 8th century, the Venerable Bede wrote the biography of the Irish saint of Lindisfarne, St Aidan.
“Then the North East as a whole was an important centre for Irish immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“Even in recent years the football club has had strong Irish links and is now owned by an Irish American.
“Now, St Patrick’s Day is an important chance for people on Wearside to remember their Irish links.”
This weekend however, festivities will tend to focus on the city’s pubs and clubs, with many of Wearside’s Irish residents – as well as many who aren’t – meeting up for a traditional tipple.
Seamus Whelan is consultant general manager for Paddy Whacks on Green Lane in Sunderland and has been busy planning for their biggest day of the year.
He said: “Our 2012 festival will see 12 bands play for 12 hours on two stages, although we will stop the music to watch the FA Cup quarter-final.
“I’ve been in Sunderland for 30 years and the Irishness here is obvious. A few years ago, the sales of Sunderland football shirts in Cork were outselling Manchester United, which is quite something.”
Seamus thinks it is the Irish stereotypes of friendliness that attract people to take part on St Patrick’s Day.
He said: “People love to be associated with the Irish at this time of year, even if they have no Irish ancestry. People come from quite a distance to join in.
“Everyone wants to wear a daft hat and wave an inflatable pint of Guinness. But even if that’s a bit cheesy and can be over the top, it’s all very good natured.”
•The real St Patrick was born Maewyn Succat in what is now Britain in 390.
•He was kidnapped at the age 16 and sent to Ireland to work as a slave, tending to sheep.
•Although he later escaped, he returned to Ireland as a missionary.
•He died on March 17, 461, and as mythology developed, became the patron saint of Ireland.
•The shamrock was used by St Patrick to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity.
•13million pints of Guinness are drunk around the world on St Patrick’s Day.