Ireland Switches St. Pat Day Observance

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

DUBLIN, Ireland – The Roman Catholic Church will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day two days early next year in Ireland, to avoid a conflict with observances for an exceptionally early Holy Week.

Thanks to Irish emigration, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world each March 17, but officials of Ireland’s dominant church decided to shift its 2008 feast day for the national saint to March 15 _ the first time the date has been changed since 1940.

Religious and government authorities were keen to stress, however, that the change shouldn’t affect secular festivities worldwide and that March 17 will remain an official day off work in Ireland.

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The St. Patrick’s Festival Committee in Dublin confirmed that next year’s parade would go off on March 17 as usual.

Since the mid-1990s, Dublin has dramatically expanded the holiday into a five-day festival designed to ensure that most St. Patrick’s events, including the parade and riverside fireworks display, happen during a long weekend.

Next year, March 17 is the second day of Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday and ends with Easter.

Strict interpretation of church rules would require the St. Patrick’s Day feast to be moved to the earliest date available after Easter, which in 2008 would be April 1. But church officials said the Vatican approved the March 15 date because of the civic events.

Tourism officials said they didn’t expect the roughly 500,000 people who fill Dublin for the parade and partying each year to be concerned by the church’s calendar.

“I wouldn’t imagine too many people are aware of the religious aspect,” said Sinead Grace, spokeswoman for Tourism Ireland.

The issue won’t come again for quite awhile _ 2160, church officials said.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)