St. Patrick's Day celebrations begin with music festival in Prague

St. Patrick's Day celebrations, photo: CTK

Although Czechs are generally considered to be a Slavic race, many of them will tell you that they also have some Celtic roots. Indeed, Bohemia is generally considered to be the place from which the Celts migrated across Europe nearly two millennia ago. In many ways, therefore, the Irish musicians arriving in Prague this week for an Irish music festival to celebrate St. Patrick's Day (March 17) could be enjoying a sort of homecoming. It will also give many Czechs an opportunity to reacquaint themselves - at least informally - with some aspects of their Celtic heritage.

St. Patrick's Day celebrations,  photo: CTK
Since its humble beginnings seven years ago the Prague Irish Music Festival, which is held in March every year to mark the traditional Irish holiday of St. Patrick's Day has become quite a big event in the city. The festival brings some top Irish musicians over to play at various Irish hostelries around Prague, and it gives both Irish and Czech residents of the city an excuse to mingle and enjoy the odd beer or two.

The festival is the brainchild of Frank Haughton, a Hibernian ex-pat who owns a number of Irish pubs in the city. So what motivates him to organize the event?

"The big emphasis of it really is to try and bring Czechs and Irish together. Our main thrust and our main satisfaction is getting Irish and Czechs together for the festival.

Do you think there are any connections between Czech and Irish people?

"Well, we both have a love of free drink! And then lots of drink as well... I think there's a certain spirit of music and drinking going together, there's a certain spirit of how the pub is the 'meeting place' for a lot of Czechs, and the social cornerstone of a lot of Irish life is also in the pub. So I think in this regard there is a certain similarity. Apart from the fact that the Czechs claim to also have some Celtic blood in their system"

St. Patrick's Day celebrations,  moderator Marek Eben,  photo: CTK
The main attraction at this year's festival is the Irish singer songwriter Juliet Turner. There are also a number of other Irish groups appearing this week, who will be playing both modern and traditional Irish music.

The festival also has a Czech patron to ensure that the locals are well represented during the festivities. This year's patron is the well known actor and chat-show host Marek Eben. It's a job Mr Eben certainly seems to relish doing:

"Well, when I was asked to be patron, my first question was 'What does it mean? What should I do?', and the answer was 'nothing'. How beautiful! So I agreed immediately, but to be honest I would agree even if I did have something to do, because I really have a lot of sympathies for Ireland, and I love Irish music and Irish culture. I think Irish people are very friendly, they are very communicative and I love the Irish pubs."

Do you think there are any connections or affinities between the Czechs and the Irish?

"As far as I know, we have the same roots - the Celtic roots. Maybe because of the weather the Irish developed as a rougher nation. I think that Czech people are a little bit more tender; more mild in their character. The Irish people I think had more fights and they had to fight for their existence harder than we did."