Road Trip

Irish Eyes Are Smiling on Dover

Sunday, March 9, 2008

WHERE: Dover, Del.

WHY: Irish pride on parade, lucky bets and Guinness.

HOW FAR: About 3.5 miles from start to finish. Dover is about 95 miles from Washington, a two-hour drive.

On Saturday, the capital of the Blue Hen State turns shamrock green. To celebrate St. Patrick's Day (albeit two days early), Dover's Irish community will spread the Gaelic joy with a 2 p.m. parade down West Loockerman Street, leprechaun-leapin' music and, of course, green beer toasts.

The city's Irish roots predate the American Revolution; large numbers of indentured Irish and Scottish immigrants settled here in the late 17th century. In 1777, the year Dover became the state capital, Irish Americans made up a significant population in the burgeoning area. Even more Emerald Isle natives moved in during the Civil War as Confederate loyalists left town for friendlier parts.

Modern Dover still shows flashes of its Irish history. On Loockerman, its pedestrian-friendly main drag, visitors can grab a drink at an Irish tavern that features a countdown clock for the holiday, try on a Claddagh ring at a jewelry store and pick up Celtic talismans at a Wiccan shop -- all without breaking a sweat.

For the St. Patrick's Day parade, the area's Irish and others come out in force. On display: school marching bands, homegrown beauty queens and about 20 floats from such boosters as Irish Mike's Olde Towne Pub (a favorite hangout of the Irish Green Goats Drinking Team) and the Dover-based Irish Society of Delmarva.

"It's a wonderful time," society president Mary Dalton says. "It's hard to describe the feeling of the celebration, but it's something you feel in your heart."

-- Ben Chapman

© 2008 The Washington Post Company