It’s (almost) here, Exile Nation.
The fixture marked in everyone’s calendar since August last year is nearly upon us with Northampton Saints travelling down the M1 to celebrate the St. Patrick’s Party for the second year running.
It’s a day that evokes pride for some, emotion for others, but one thing is for certain – a party in Brentford.
It will be the second St. Patrick’s fixture with fans since the relocation back to the capital in 2020, and to mark the occasion, the Club spoke to the most important component of any matchday, the supporters, on why this fixture holds such reverence to them personally.
Will Leonard started the conversation explaining the personal meaning the flagship fixture has to him and his family.
“The St. Patrick’s Party is an opportunity for me to share such a big passion of mine with my friends and family,” he beamed.
“They’re not all as big Irish fans as I am, but this is the one day of the year that I can show it off, and they get really get why I love it so much.
“We’ve always had such a great time, the atmosphere is always electric and it had become a yearly fixture on the family calendar.
“Essentially it’s always been a great demonstration of why London Irish is so great, and it helps them to understand why I love them so much.”
Will with family and friends outside the Gtech Community Stadium
Kat Easthope has followed the Club since the 1990s with the influence of her father, having been brought up around Irish families in her childhood too.
Her St. Patrick’s Party brings together two passions within her life, showing as ever, that it is always about more than just matters on-field with the Exiles.
“What always makes it nice is one of our friends is the drummer in The BibleCode Sundays [Joe Cotterill], seeing everyone jumping up and enjoying their music is a huge thing as well.
“It marries together two important elements of my life – my love of rugby, and my love of music.”
A colleague of Joe’s is Ronan MacManus, the lead singer of The BibleCode Sundays, a band that throughout their guises have been associated with the Club for over 25 years.
MacManus’ ties with the Club span back even further, 40 years in fact, to his days in minis rugby that his mother Sara helped run and look after Ronan and his three brothers.
Following on from Irish finding a new home at the Gtech Community Stadium, Ronan has noticed a spike in returning supporters from years gone by that only enriches the Club’s cultural identity on days like Saturday.
“Since we have been back in London, we have seen the Irish community come back out in force, a lot of old faces I hadn’t seen since the Sunbury or Stoop days that travel down from our gigs in north-west London come for the day out and spectacle.”
Niall Pither, whose Exile connections were passed down through both sides of his family in his mother’s roots in County Louth and his father’s in County Galway, takes pride in having a Club that represents his identity.
“It’s what separates us from the rest in the Premiership, we’re a Club that represents a demographic and gives a sense of belonging for a lot of the Irish population in England,” he explained.
“But it’s also about that Exiles ideology and being a Club open for everyone, it’s about putting the performances in on the pitch and that passion.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re from Ireland, England, private schools or not, you’re always more than welcome.”
Niall Pither enjoying the local delicacies in The Dugout bar post-game
St. Patrick’s Day, or week if your celebrations allow, is undoubtedly the time of the year where Irish pride is unapologetically on show in the Emerald Isle and beyond.
The St. Patrick’s fixture for Irish fans offers the opportunity to introduce family, friends and work colleagues to the Exiles way of life, as Kat explains.
“It really reflects our values and what we are as a Club; I’ve always found Irish to be really welcoming by the fans, players and staff, I just love the feeling of our Club.
“It’s family-friendly, we want everyone to come down and have a good time, including away fans, no matter who we are playing in the fixture.
“When my brother started dating my sister-in-law, the first game we brought her to was a St. Patrick’s Party game.
“She had never been a rugby fan before, and she’s just as big a fan, if not bigger, than me and my brother now!”
Manny Garcia, a long-time member of the Exile Nation who married into a family of London Irish fans, explains the importance of extending a warm welcome to previously new visitors to Irish games.
“It’s always been a big family day for us, we’ll always invite extended family with us and I think there’ll be 20 or so of us this year!
“We used to have a picnic in the car park and that graduated to getting a hotel room, we just love the music and it’s great for the kids too.
“Win or lose, it’s always a good day and we’ll always enjoy the craic.”
Jacob Barr, who some of the social media-savvy Irish faithful may be familiar with as the man behind the #RugbyLondonIrish accounts, concurs and sees the day as the perfect chance to offer the famous Irish hospitality.
Jacob Barr and family at the final St. Patrick's Party at the Madejski Stadium with fans in 2019
“It’s one of those games where you target to share how great Irish is, they might not be into rugby, but every time they walk away and say ‘That was unbelievable.’”
“I have so many friends that have Irish hats and scarfs, and by the end of it, they’re singing the Fields of Athenry by the end of it.
“It’s one of those days throughout the year where it is a proper ‘father and son’ day for me, even though it was always bringing friends, it was always friends and dad and having an amazing day out with him.”
Jacob continued with his memory of his first St. Patrick’s Party, a rather amusing scenario imposed by the changeable spring weather in the south-east of England.
“My first St. Patrick’s game was when I was older against Worcester Warriors I’m sure, and I just remember thinking ‘This is the best thing ever’ to be honest.
“The crowd in the car park at the Madejski was immense, the band was playing, but it was snowing.
“We only had one pair of gloves between us, and we’d have one glove each to hold our pint whilst the other was in our pockets!”
“Seeing Topsy Ojo scoring was always special, having legends like Mike Catt and Seilala Mapasua always brought the game to life,” Manny reminisced of the Madejski Stadium days.
Manny Garcia and family at a St. Patrick's Party held at the Madejski Stadium
London Irish has built its reputation of every matchday meaning more than just 80 minutes of rugby, whether that be through live entertainment, food and beverages and the vibrant social community that upholds the core values of the Club.
There’s no better day to broadcast the true meaning of what being an Exile is than the St. Patrick’s Party, and the budding fans can’t wait for another edition in 2023.
“There’s nothing like bumping into that old Irish friend who you haven’t seen for donkeys years, I met a friend who was one of the Irish dancers at half-time last year and that was great,” Manny Garcia added.
“I play a lot of community rugby and the team I play for participated in the Community festival in Gunnersbury Park, that’s lovely and really exciting for them – it adds that special factor to it.”
Jacob said: “It’s the 10 minutes in the stands before kick-off and you see everyone piling in, and you think, ‘Here we go’ – it has that different buzz to it, and it’s what I look forward to so much.”
Niall continued to celebrate the individuality that comes with a St. Patrick’s Party: “It’s a chance for us to have our moment and celebrate our history, there’s no other fixture like it and regardless of the result, it’s one great party.
“There’s a distinct personality to it and it’s more of a celebration to give Irish people a taste of home, and welcoming people into an Irish culture and rugby culture.”
Ronan, who perhaps has seen more St. Patrick’s Parties than most, has been a key cog in what makes matchdays in March and beyond unique to the Club.
He, as part of The BibleCode Sundays and fan favourites The Reels, will return to grace the stage in Brentford in the all-new Fan Village this year.
“It felt like every game back in the Sunbury days was a St. Patrick’s Party, there was always such a massive social side to the Club.
“Going out to the Madejski, it was like playing Glastonbury some of those gigs, there were people as far as the eye can see!
“We’re really excited about the pre-match gigs and of course in The Dugout afterwards, last year I played with the Community choir on the pitch and that was quite an emotional moment.
“When the season starts, the St. Patrick’s gig is the one most fans are looking forward to and look out for, and we as a band are no different.”
Ronan MacManus playing with The BibleCode Sundays at last year's St. Patrick's Party
With supporting London Irish comes the agony, the ecstasy, the passion, the heartbreak, relief and the joy, with this season being no exception.
The Boys in Green have made it a memorable 2023 so far in Premiership action, and with three games of regular season rugby remaining,
Each interviewee offered their messages of support to the squad, management and Club as a whole for the remainder of the campaign.
“You can do it, you have the talent, work ethic and motivation and you have proved yourselves throughout the season.
“We want to see you guys go out and give your all!” Manny Garcia voiced.
Kat Easthope praised: “The boys have been amazing, we’ve had some really tight games that have been frustrating but I can see the upward trajectory,"
“Go out there and give it your all like you do always, the 16th man will definitely be behind you!”
Kat Easthope at a previous St. Patrick's Party
“They’ve been doing us proud all season, there’s been so much to sing about this season and that’s not just the players, but the fans as well,” Ronan MacManus said.
“Thanks for making our jobs a little easier in the bar afterwards, they’ve been a delight to watch and just do us proud like you always do!
“I hope the boys get the chance to do the Irish Londoner song afterwards too!”
Jacob Barr also added: “The Club means a lot to a lot of people, and they are giving us some of the best times since I can really remember.
“We’re very grateful, the supporters are behind the team and the Club and we appreciate everything.
“Hopefully we can get a few important wins over the line, they have the full backing of us fans.”
“We’ve had a solid young team that are pretty fearless in how they play, I’d love for the team to keep their heads up and keep going,” Niall Pither concluded.
“The last few months have shown that they can mix it with the best and from a fan’s perspective, I’m so proud to support this Club and they have always been a great team to follow.
“The performances this year have seen other teams take us seriously, and the message to the boys is to keep going for the rest of the season.
“We’ll be with them all the way, that’s for sure!”