It’s never too early to start thinking about St. Patrick’s Day. I know it’s only the wee early days of March, but (happily) I received my invitation to our annual Guinness-flowing, limerick-reciting, gold coin-hunting, beef stew-slurping party weeks ago – second only to Zane Patrick’s Day I am sure, but, while that happens to take place on the other coast, The Irish Riviera (Scituate, Massachusetts) is as far as my rainbow extends this year.
I am sure I am not the only one who already has plans for this “Everyone is Irish Today” celebration. Like most, you probably don the colors, paint a shamrock or two on your face and happily assimilate into the culture, traditions and fun of the day (otherwise known as “Jameson”, “Baileys” and “Murphy’s”) without much thought of from whence it all came.
After all, being 75% Irish myself (maiden name ‘Kearney – “nuff said), I’ve always, without much thought, just gone with the lure of these rich traditions and expressions of my Celtic, though twice-removed, homeland. I’ve hung an Irish flag in my dorm room, permanently marked myself with a shamrock tattoo, and made a habit of commemorating each wedding or organized function with at least one Car Bomb cocktail.
And while the shamrock tattoo used to come in handy getting in, sans cover charge, to Boston’s finest St. Patrick’s Day parties (and I am sure it had nothing to with its location on my very upper thigh) and the flag was a great conversation starter (especially with m y hall mates who were atheist teetotalers), I am not sure I ever really gave much thought to the religious foundation of this gent we call St. Patrick. Honestly, I just toasted him – like the rest of the green beer hoisting Irish lovers do that day.
But now, a few years removed from those rowdy bars and tattoo contests, I find myself not just drinking for the hell of it on St. Patrick’s Day (do you believe that?), but equally interested in the “why” of St. Patrick’s Day. Or maybe I just like having the knowledge and trivia to impart upon fellow drinkers, customers at my bar and just any old leprechaun who crosses my path. So, now you’ll have these Irish blessings as well, as we can now drink with wit and wisdom together – and isn’t that what it’s all about?
Where Did the Custom of Drinking on St. Patrick’s Day Come From?
Well, not that the Irish – or we Americans – really need an extra excuse to drink on any given day, the celebration of St. Patrick on March 17th really does involve some extra imbibing not present, or nearly as sanctioned, on any of those other days. And the reason is because St. Patrick, who is credited with bringing Christianity to the once multi-religioned Irish in the 400’s, died on March 17th. And we all know that Irish wakes involve quite a bit of drinking. So, to commemorate this little bit of trivia, I would then pour my bar mate a nice, Leprechaun Marti ni:
2 oz. vanilla vodka
½ oz. Irish Cream
½ oz. Green Crème de Mint
Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker over ice. Shake vigorously and strain into chocolate-swirled cocktail glass. Good luck only having one!
Okay, So…Why Do The Irish Drink At Wakes Anyway?
This is because the Irish like to celebrate the life of the departed, rather than solemnly mourn the passing. A traditional Irish wake involves certain preparation, keening (vocally lamenting for the dead), visitation rituals, the saying of the rosary, and staying at the deceased’s house until midnight – even until morning if you were close friends. During this time, the guests drink and reminisce – and drink some more – for the dearly departed.
And that’s just for regular old dead folks. When you put it that way, it’s no wonder that we celebrate the life and accomplishments of a famous Saint with the royal treatment: parades, beers, parties, whiskey, limerick contests, green cocktails…and so on…
For this reason, make yourself a strong Irish Coffee (as I am sure wake guests need a few to avail themselves ‘til morning.)
Authentic Irish Coffee
2 oz. Irish Whiskey (Jameson and Paddy are authentic favorites)
3 sugar cubes
Strong black coffee
Heat a stemmed goblet with boiling water to warm. Pour in the whiskey and sugar cubes. Fill with coffee to one inch below top, and stir to dissolve sugar. Top with the cream, using back of bar spoon to float on top. Do not stir before serving.
And What Exactly Makes St. Patrick So Famous?
St. Patrick was a Roman Brit who was kidnapped as a child and held for years by Irish captors. While there, it is believed that he was visited by God in a dream, who told him how to flee, which he did. Back in Britain he became a priest and then returned to Ireland to teach Christianity to the Irish. He influenced the great leaders, and Christianity fiercely caught on. He died after more than 30 years of evangelizing and has been known as one of Ireland’s patron saints ever since. After this part of the lesson, an Emerald Isle seems in order:
2 oz. gin
1 oz. green crème de menthe
2 dashes bitters
Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
So What’s With the Shamrock?
St. Patrick supposedly used the shamrock to illustrate the interconnectedness of the Holy Trinity to his parishioners. It became a symbol of Irish Christianity, and shamrock designs have been adorning clothes – and thighs – ever since. This is where the phrase “the wearing of the colors” originated. Not actually from wearing the color green.
Feeling more enlightened? You should naturally have a Shamrock now:
Tri-Color Shamrock Shot – for an extra Irish feel
1/3 oz. Brandy
1/3 oz. Baileys
1/3 oz. Green Crème de Menthe
Layer the ingredients in a shot glass to create the Irish colors. Then shoot for posterity!
And the Green Colors, and Green Beer?
Actually, the colors that are worn on St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland are not just green; but orange, green and white, all worn together. This represents the North, the South, and white as the connector that brings the two together.
So, looking back, when I wore my bright orange denim jeans that made everyone strangely upset with me, it was because I was unknowingly showing my support for Northern Ireland in the midst of a largely immigrant suburb full of Southerners?? Hmmm… why can’t we all just get along, right?
And with that lesson in Melting Pot 101, I would recommend a nice pint of Guinness – because, usually, everyone can agree on that. Some would add a shot of ½ Baileys, ½ Jameson (me me me!), and some would have it unadulterated, straight and perfect as it is (me me me!), so I give you the one, authentic, American-untouched legacy of Ireland – the Guinness Stout.
Find a bartender that will pour it the correct way (me me me!), and will allow it to settle and release the full aroma of the beer. It takes two steps – and about 5 minutes (10 if you are in Ireland, as I was fortunate enough to be last year… but that, my friends, is another blog. Murphy’s is a close contender as well for the perfect Irish beer to finish all perfect Irish drinking lists like this one…)
So now that you have all these recipes, and a little bit of history behind each one, you can extend your St. Patrick’s Day celebration throughout the entire month of March. Or, at least get a head start on them. So grab your ingredients, start composing those limericks, and practice face-painting those shamrocks. By the time the 17th rolls along, your trivia knowledge, as well as your tolerance, should be at its finest. Slainte!
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