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An Irish chef's picks for St. Paddy's fun

By Katia Hetter, CNN
updated 3:20 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
The Guinness Storehouse is the top visitor attraction in Ireland. "You can see Guinness wasn't just a drink, it was Dublin," TV personality and chef Clodagh McKenna says. Click through for some of McKenna's other favorite St. Paddy's picks: The Guinness Storehouse is the top visitor attraction in Ireland. "You can see Guinness wasn't just a drink, it was Dublin," TV personality and chef Clodagh McKenna says. Click through for some of McKenna's other favorite St. Paddy's picks:
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Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
Hot spots for St. Patrick's Day
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clodagh McKenna realized long ago that St. Patrick's Day is celebrated all over the world
  • Drive into the mountains outside Dublin and see some of the best Irish dancing anywhere
  • Visit a 250-year-old cottage and eat fresh oysters by the water outside Galway, Ireland
  • Celebrate Southern style, with green beer and fountains in Savannah, Georgia

(CNN) -- Sometimes called the Rachael Ray of Ireland, chef Clodagh McKenna says her favorite memories of St. Patrick's Day come from her childhood home in Cork.

"It was very much a family day," says McKenna, host of the PBS show "Clodagh's Irish Food Trails." "All the kids would make their own badges with fresh shamrocks and Irish flags. We'd go to Mass, have my mother's Guinness stew or spring lamb and go to see the parade. It was a tiny little parade, very simple."

At the parade's end, marchers would hand out pieces of gum to the children running behind them. "It was very innocent and pure back then. We were very proud of our country."

Since those childhood days, McKenna has found herself celebrating all over the world on St. Patrick's Day, and she's often surprised to find some version of her country's celebration everywhere she's traveled.

"I think it's because there is a joie de vivre that Irish people have," says McKenna, who is on tour in the United States for her latest book, "Clodagh's Kitchen Diaries."

"We are really good at laughing, and we're very relaxed in our own skin. We don't have to be anybody we're not. Maybe other people enjoy those traits."

Here are some of McKenna's favorite spots to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this Sunday -- and she wouldn't mind visiting these places any time of year:

Dublin, Ireland: Dublin is where McKenna makes her home now. One of her favorite spots is Johnnie Fox's pub, in the Dublin Mountains about 30 minutes from the city center. It's always jammed with people enjoying "the really fun Irish dancing and great food."

On the holiday, "it's madness," she says. "I like having people over for lunch and then going there after." Reservations are recommended any time of year.

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First-time visitors to Dublin should also head to the Guinness Storehouse, the top tourist attraction in Ireland, she says. "I love going there. There's a twisted stairway going all the way up to the top; you see all the history of Guinness. When you're going up, you can see Guinness wasn't just a drink, it was Dublin.

"At the top is the very best bar in the city, where I've had the best Guinness I've ever tasted in my life and a whole view of Dublin city."

Galway, Ireland: A thatched cottage about 15 minutes outside Galway, Moran's Oyster Cottage serves local oysters and other seafood to rave reviews. The 250-year-old family-run business is operated by the seventh generation of Morans. (The liquor license dates back to the 1700s, and the pub survived changes in the local fishing industry by adding seafood to its menu in the 1960s.)

"They serve the best oysters in Ireland, and in England, too," McKenna says. "The music sessions there are really, really, really fantastic. They have fresh oysters, Guinness pies and the atmosphere -- it feels like you're a time warp. In the summertime, they have tables outside right on the water."

New York: Just 18 with a few college credits to her name, McKenna left Ireland to finish her college education at New York University. She remembers once brunching at a restaurant at Grand Central Station and heading outside to watch the city's raucous parade.

In the Big Apple over the holiday this year to promote her new book, McKenna will join New York restaurateur Danny Meyer in hosting a pop-up restaurant at the Whitney Museum on Saturday night.

Monaco: The tiny principality's ties to Ireland come through the late Princess Grace, whose grandfather lived in County Mayo.

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McKenna has visited Monaco several times and recommends the St. Patrick's Day evening harp concert organized by the Princess Grace Irish Library. Prince Albert II will then light the palace facade in green, followed by musicians playing Irish music for a public audience.

Savannah, Georgia: Clodagh hasn't made it yet to this Southern U.S. city for St. Patrick's Day, but her sister-in-law, Erin McKenna, has told her it's the best place in the world for the festivities. And since an estimated 250,000 people poured into the streets of Savannah for last year's St. Patrick's Day celebration, it seems many revelers agree.

Beer taps and fountains run green in this city known for historic mansions and Southern chef Paula Deen. This Saturday's parade, the 189th annual event in Savannah, will feature more than 350 units, including several U.S. military divisions, the Irish Air Corps Pipes and Drums from Dublin and the Budweiser Clydesdales.

Celebrate wherever you are: While studying at NYU, a young Clodagh had a Brazilian friend offer the perfect spring break option, a house in Miami Beach. She didn't take St. Patrick's Day into consideration and certainly didn't expect to find Ireland taking over the Ocean Drive scene in South Beach.

"All along the strip, the bars were all turned into Irish dancing pubs on the night of St. Patrick's. I had so much fun teaching a lot of (people) how to Irish dance.

"That's when I realized St. Patrick's Day is actually celebrated everywhere."

Ireland's writers return home for inspiration

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