Tourism industry calls for annual four-day St Patrick’s weekend

Average traffic volumes countrywide last week were 15,848 cars a day – 66% up on last year

Orla Conneely rues not opening her coffee shop in Roundstone village in Connemara a week earlier this year.

The grand white door of her period three-storey hostelry, striped in seaside blue and cream, remained shut as unprecedented numbers pushed into neighbouring pubs and restaurants over the first four-day St Patrick’s weekend in recent memory.

“It kickstarted the season a few weeks early,” she says.

Conneely, like other tourism traders around the country, have been astounded at the unexpected bonanza afforded to the industry by an extra day’s holiday to the spring break, after two years of pandemic lockdowns.


On Friday, the once-off National Day of Remembrance for Covid victims was shoehorned in between St Patrick’s Day and the weekend.

The weather played ball and pent-up demand for a staycation persuaded families in their droves to pack up the car and head off for a few days.

“We hadn’t opened for the season yet,” says Conneely. “Usually on St Patrick’s Day it is mostly locals in Roundstone. This year, all the holiday home owners and visitors came early.

“If they had just an extra day’s break, they would be thinking about doing something in the garden. But two days – a four-day weekend – and everyone is putting off the garden until next week.”

A few doors down the hill and across the street, O’Dowd’s seafood bar and restaurant, overlooking the harbour, did a roaring trade in its homemade chowder, local crab, mussels and Killary fjord-farmed oysters.

“It was definitely busier than a normal St Patrick’s weekend,” says owner Nicky Griffin.

“It was mostly Irish families – a lot of families from Galway, from Dublin, for sure.”

Both Conneely and Griffin have joined growing calls from the tourism industry for an annual four-day spring break.

It would require St Patrick’s Day to fall on any weekday except Wednesday, with an extra public holiday bridging the gap either side or in between.

Fresh figures from State roads agency Transport Infrastructure Ireland suggest the demand is there.

Average traffic volumes countrywide last week were 15,848 cars a day – a 66 per cent jump on the same time last year.

Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president of the Irish Hotels Federation, says there is a “fundamental shift” in tourism trends this year as a result of the longer break.

“It was a double added incentive to get away. Without a shadow of doubt, there is more value to it than having separate public holidays split between March and February.”

There is no shortage of anecdotal evidence either.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of small and medium sized business group Isme, was struck by the numbers in Dublin over the weekend, boosted by the Ireland v Scotland rugby international.

“Lots of places in the city were full, it was really good for footfall from Thursday to Sunday,” he says.

McDonnell also noticed more than usual out-of-office replies to his emails over the break.

“Even on Monday, people are auto-replying they are not back at work until Tuesday. It seems a lot of people packed up and headed off for the few days. I think a lot of people turned it into a midterm break.”

‘Double whammy’

But while it was good for homegrown hospitality, two public holidays in a row dealt a “double whammy” for other smaller businesses, particularly the services industry, including construction, healthcare and deliveries, says McDonnell.

A lot of employers would “baulk” at it being an annual fixture.

A barber, for example, faced the choice of having to pay an employee a premium rate for the public holiday, pay them to take the day off and suffer the loss of turnover, or bring in a replacement and pay the extra wages, he says.

“The cost of labour is really significant for these businesses, up to 60 or 70 per cent for the services sector.”

The extra long weekend “comes at a cost to some, and not to others”, he points out.

But Finbarr Filan, who owns a Centra on Sligo’s Castle Street and helps organise local St Patrick’s Day festivities, says businesses suffering from the extra holiday might be better to take the “double hit in one go in March”.

Next year, the Government has announced a public holiday at the start of February for St Brigid’s Day. A Government source says there are no plans for this to change, even in the coming years.

Filan, whose younger brother is Westlife singer Shane Filan, says Sligo took a punt on the four-day weekend this year by putting on a three-day music festival, organised at short notice. It drew more than 5,000 paying customers. Restaurants and pubs were packed.

“We were delighted with the success, we couldn’t believe it went so well,” says Filan, whose own business saw a 20 per cent spike in sales.

Filan says a four-day St Patrick’s weekend makes much more sense than a public holiday on St Brigid’s Day.

“At the start of February, the likelihood is there will be a storm brewing. It is just the wrong time of year for a holiday, it is pretty bleak.

“The extra day for St Patrick’s gives people the option to travel, when the weather is likely to be better.”