IT'S THE time of the year when Irish American guys are smiling (gals too for that matter): Actually, they've been smiling since 1737, the year St. Patrick's Day was first publicly celebrated in this country (in Irish-heavy Boston, of course). In fact, the first St. Patrick's Day parade took place not in Ireland, but in New York, when Irish soldiers serving in the British military marched through that city's streets on March 17, 1762, honoring their country's patron saint.

March 17 is St. Patrick's religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century after having spent 30 years converting thousands to Christianity and founding hundreds of churches in Ireland. For more than a millennium, St. Patrick's Day was primarily a religious occasion, and as recently as the 1970s, Irish laws mandated that pubs be closed on March 17. In Ireland, St. Patrick's Day remains both a national and religious holiday -- stores and offices are closed and many people attend church and offer special prayers. In the mid-'90s, the Irish government began a national campaign using St. Patrick's Day festivals and events as vehicles to increase tourism and showcase Ireland to the rest of the world. They probably noticed that for many years, everyone, regardless of race or nationality, seems to turn Irish on March 17. However, if you can't make it to Ireland, here are some musical alternatives.

FRIDAY

Danu, 6 and 8:30, National Geographic Society's Grosvenor Auditorium. 202-857-7700.

Maura O'Connell, 7:30, Birchmere, Alexandria. 703-549-7500.

Craobh Rua, 7:30, Voice of America Auditorium. 202-357-3030.

SATURDAY

MoonFire, 8, BlackRock Center for the Arts, Germantown. 301-528-2260.

SUNDAY

Mary Black, 7, Weinberg Center, Frederick. 301-228-2828.

Irish Fire featuring Grace Griffith, 7:30, Birchmere. 703-549-7500.

Ellis Island, 3, Alden Theatre, McLean. 703-573-7328 or 800-551-7328.

Liz Carroll and John Doyle (Solas), 8, Jammin' Java, Vienna. 703-255-1566 Ext. 8, info 703-255-6718.

MONDAY, ST. PATRICK'S DAY

Mary Black & Altan, 7:30, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore. 410-783-8000.

Batt Burns, storyteller, 7:30, National Geographic Society's Grosvenor Auditorium. 202-857-7700.

Seven Nations, 7, State Theatre, Falls Church. 703-237-0300.

Robin Bullock & Steve Baughman, 8, Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Silver Spring. 301-754-3611.

Irish Fire with Grace Griffith, 8:30, Rams Head Tavern, Annapolis. 410-268-51111 or 410-268-4545.

Roger Henderson & the Bloody Onions, 6:30 to 9:30, Starland Cafe. 202-244-9396.

Kevin James, Connor Malone, Michael Patrick Band, from noon, Flanagan's, Bethesda. 301-986-1007.

Jim Hartley and Sanford Markley, Ireland's Four Courts, Arlington. 703-525-3600.

Doc Doherty Band, from 11 a.m., Ireland's Four Provinces, Falls Church. 703-534-8999.

Atlantic Bridge, from 10:30 a.m., Ireland's Four Provinces, Washington. 202-244-0860.

Brendan Voyage, Patrick O'Flaherty and Don Covert, from noon, Ireland's Own, Alexandria. 703-549-4535.

Pete Papageorge, Irish Times, Washington. 202-543-5433.

Doherty and McBurney, Kathie Porter, Pat Garvey, Jim Hartley, from noon, Mrs. O'Leary's Pub, Gaithersburg. 301-947-1993.

The Flying Cows of Ventry, Pennywhistle, Ted Garber, Old Brogue, Great Falls. 703-759-3309

Brendan Voyage and Patrick Flaherty and Don Colbert, Troy's, Alexandria. 703-549-4535.

ALSO

Altan, Wednesday & Thursday, 8, Barns of Wolf Trap, Vienna. 703-218-6500.

Robin Bullock, Thursday, 8, BlackRock Center for Arts, Germantown. 301-528-2260.

Old Blind Dogs, March 23, 8, Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring. 301-754-3611.

Lunasa, March 24, 8, Reston Community Center, Reston. 703-476-4500.

Barachois, March 24, 8, Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Silver Spring. 301-754-3611.

Robin Bullock and Michel Sikiotakis, March 26, 8, Baldwin's Station, Sykesville, Md. 410-795-1041.