The Irish Paint Moscow Green!

Dave Pearce

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Moscow is something that everyone knows about if you happen to live in Moscow, where the Irish have made a real impact into Moscow’s culture.

How did this all start?, you may ask. Shortly after Perestroika and the appearance of western businesses and culture in Moscow, a number of the quite large Irish expat community at the time thought it would be a great idea to hold a parade and went about convincing City Hall that this was a good idea. Fortunately, the mayor agreed, and hence Moscow’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was started. This has continued for 25 years with the exception of 2 years during the crises in the 1990’s and 2009.

City Hall’s willingness to grant us special permission to hold a parade in Moscow reflects deep cultural ties, however there is even a military operation in which soldiers from both countries took part in. Dave explains: “Peter Lacy, or as he was known in Russia, Pyotr Petrovich Laci, was the son of an Irish Lord. At 13 he was already a lieutenant fighting the British during the Siege of Limerick. Peter and his family fled to France. Most of the Irish who were soldiers joined the French military and like many French soldiers at that time, joined the Russian Army. Still very young in age but not in experience, Peter rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Russian army. He fought in the campaign against the Crimean Kahn in 1737-1738, using unconventional tactics which he had learned fighting the British in Ireland. Nowadays this could be called Guerrilla warfare. After this Victory he was made a Count and was appointed Governor General of Livonia, which is present day Latvia and Southern Estonia.

Pyotr Petrovich Laci

This Irish-Russian cooperation was significant as it started a period of good relations, which continue today. The music connection in another fascinating aspect of this relationship. A very famous composer pianist and a teacher was John Field, He moved to Moscow, taught here, and died here, and he’s buried at the Vvedenskoye Cemetery. It continues today, with Irish Dance Schools and many Russian musicians who adopted Irish instruments, because some Irish instruments are not played anywhere else, have become as proficient as real Irish traditional musicians. Every week there are music Seisiúns in many pubs and venues.

During the Cold War, Ireland was one of the few countries that allowed  Aeroflot to refuel on Transatlantic flights. We joke that the Irish coffees served at the stopovers made it easier for the Irish to be accepted in the new Russian State. It certainly convinced the Russian Government to allow Aer Rianta, which is now now Dublin Airport Authority to develop the Duty Free Operation in Sheremetyevo Airport.In the early 1990’s many Irish Companies opened up in Moscow.

Ireland is a small country and we have to go somewhere to do something.

John Field c. 1820

The Irish House on Novy Arbat will be remembered by older Muscovites because it was one of the few places that you could purchase western goods, at slightly inflated prices, but they were available. Many companies that were setting up here had an Irish influence, Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola and many of the financial services had Irish Managers and personnel. Ireland is the only country Russia allows to celebrate its National Day on the streets of Moscow. I think this is because of the great esteem they have for our little country and it’s greatly appreciated.

The creation of a special ‘St Patrick’s Day’ this year by the Russian Orthodox Church adds additional status to this festival. “The Russian Orthodox Church has always recognised St. Patrick as a Saint, because this stems from events before the Schsim [The East–West Schism of 1054, was the break of communion between what are now the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches], but only last year the Russian Church elevated St Patrick’s to the position of having a ‘special saint day’. The Russian Orthodox Church has a strong congregation in Ireland. In Dublin alone, there are over 10,000 Russians and Russian speaking people; a lot of them still attend Russian Orthodox services.

This year, St. Patrick’s Day is going to be celebrated on the 24th of March at Park Sokolniki at 12.00. There will be the Parade, then two hours of Irish music, and festivities going on in the park. It’s a beautiful park and it suits us now to hold it there. Irish Week is held from the 14th to the 25th March; and only the Irish can make a week last 11 days. There have been traditional Irish dance shows, parties in Irish pubs, lectures and discussions about Irish culture — a lot of exciting events. We will also be holding our Annual Emerald Ball on the 24th which is our main Charitable Event raising money for a wonderful Russian Charity, Viktoria. 400 people will attend.

I know so many Russians, and most of them have a favourable opinion of Ireland. Since the advent of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Moscow, we’ve had tremendous support from Moscow City Hall, and none of this would be possible without their assistance, and a lot of Russians who have supported us, have come back every year; they dress up in Irish attire. The Irish are known to be a little bit wild, we have all sorts of slogans like: ‘The fighting Irish.” We like fun, and one or two drinks, but we like to laugh and sing, and I think this is something we have in common with Russians. At first, when you meet a Russian they tend to be a little bit distant, because they are not sure of you, but a great thing about the Irish is that they very quickly break down borders.

As regards what Irish think about the Russians, I’d like to say that when I first came here 18 years ago, it was a strange experience coming to another country. But I soon found out that the people were very open, and very warm. Possibly I had an advantage over my English counterparts, as when they discovered I was Irish, the Russians were a little bit more open and allowed to allow me to break in quickly. Maybe I’ll be here for quite a bit longer. In my opinion, the Irish and the Russians are really compatible, they get on really well together.

For more details about the parade, see: