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Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!

March 7, 2013
By MIKE HUGHES - Times Leader News Editor , Times Leader

Ladies and gentleman, are you ready for Amateur Night - Round II?

That's coming up shortly as Sunday, March 17 is the annual all-night holiday party known as St. Patrick's Day.

New Year's Eve is the ultimate amateur night but St. Patrick's is a close second.

It's a night, as they say, that everyone is Irish in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland whose memory and deeds are honored by the holiday.

Yes, and I'm sure St. Patrick himelf loves that millions of people worldwide celebrate by drinking inordinate amounts of beer, puking on their friends and passing out on a seedy dive-bar bathroom floor.

The Irish people as a whole have to deal with enough stereotypes of a nation a drinking and fighting people.

And yes, this is perpetuated every March 17 when, without much surprise, those pretending to be Irish for the night drink and often times fight.

Interestingly enough, up until the 1970s, pubs and other drinking establishments were closed on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. After all, for the Irish, it is, above all else, a relgious holiday.

Strangely enough, St. Patrick himself wasn't even Irish.

His actual place of birth is up for debate. But Ireland isn't amongst the locales in that debate. He may have spread Christianity to the pagan, Celtic peoples of Ireland but he wasn't of their blood. But that's another matter.

St. Patrick's Day is not just a national holiday in Ireland, it's also a religious holiday and feast day. For those familiar with the Catholic church, it's also a holy day of obligation. Meaning, if you're Irish, and Catholic and it's St. Patrick's Day, at some point before sundown, your butt best find its way to a pew.

Traditionally, Catholics in Ireland attended mass the morning of St. Patrick's Day to honor their patron saint and also pray for spiritual renewal and to honor the missionary work done throughout the world.

In the United States, St. Patrick's Day is viewed as a secular holiday by most, religious and non-religious alike. Unlike in Ireland, it is not a holy day of obligation for the American Catholic Church.

Still, the American way of celebrating the holiday has crept its way to Ireland in the last few decades.

Bars are open and the frivolity so associated with the celebration on this side of the 'pond' has found its way to greener shores.

So in that regard, slainte!

Boiled bacon and cabbage?

While cabbage is a staple in many traditionally Irish meals like colcannon and crubeens, the corned beef is not native to the meal.

The Irish generally accompanied the cabbage and potatoes with boiled back bacon, not corned beef, with this meal. It's is speculated that when the Diaspora brought the Irish to this country, they found beef more readily available than pork.

And taking a cue from their fellow Jewish immigrants, use corned (salted) beef as a substitute.

Want to add a wee bit more Irish flavor to that meal?

Try some boxty.

And just what is boxty you say? Generally, it's the Irish version of the potato pancake. But it's so much more.

Like most 'tater cakes' the recipes includes raw and mashed potatoes, flour, baking soda, salt and of course butter.

But it's more than just food, it's a staple, a tradition of Irish cuisine.

And the love of tuber-basedc concoction inspired this little limerick:

"Boxty on the griddle,

boxty in the pan.

If you can't make boxty,

you'll never get your man.''

Has saurkraut and pork inspired such praise? I think not.

Parades and other American traditions

St. Patrick's Day parades, ironically enough, started in the United States. It has sense spread throughout the world.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in New York City on March 17, 1762.

The pipe bands that play during these parades also borrow from different cultures, namely Scotland.

Ireland has its own version of pipes, the Uillean pipes, which differ from the Scottish Highland pipes.

As everyone knows, you can't play the Uilleann pipes while marching.

Locally, the St. Patrick's Day parade in Pittsburgh has been ongoing since 1862.

But the idea of a holiday parade didn't creep its way into Ireland until 1995. It was in that year when the Irish government began a national campaign to increase tourism and showcase the country to the rest of the world by embracing party-like celebrations to honor its patron saint.

Folks in Chicago have been turning the Chicago River green since 1962. It was then a city pollution control worker dropped 100 pounds of green vegeteble dye into the river. The practice sitll continues.

Speaking of green liquid, the obsession with adding green food coloring to alcoholic beverages on St. Patrick's Day has become a staple in the United States.

But putting green food coloring in Budweiser just makes green Budweiser. It doesn't make it Irish. Want Irish? Try a 'Pint of the Black,' Guinness, the No. 1 exported beer from Ireland. Harp and Smithwicks are acceptable substitues and can be found at many local watering holes. Need something stronger? A shot of Jamison or Bushmill's should do the trick.

And Irish whiskey has a unique taste than that of American Whiskey (Bourbon) or Scotch. That's because unlike the other variations, Irish Whiskey is triple distilled.

Wearin' of the Green

Everyone knows you're supposed to wear green on March 17 and the consequences for not doing so. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself why?

There are many theories that abound and an extensive search will yield more than a few credible sources and answers.

But one thing is for certain, the wearing of the green, at least in clothing form, is also a uniquely American tradition.

"Wearin' of the Green" actually means to wear either one or a group of three-leaf clovers, or Shamrocks, on either one's hat or the breast of their shirt or coat.

It is believed St. Patrick used the trefoil clover to help teach the trinity to the native pagan population during his missionary work. The three clover leafs attached to a single stalk was used as a tool to teach that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were 3-in-1, as is believed in the Catholic religion.

In the U.S., this custom was taken to mean wearing green clothing in general and has been followed as such.

Wearing a shamrock has been seen as a symbol of pride and nationalism throughout the Republic of Ireland and at times has been banned.

The "Wearing of the Green" was actually one of many traditions banned in the various Irish Penal Laws enacted by the crown in London on the Irish people. Also included in those penal laws was a designation on which days would be considered holy days of obligation by the crown. Not included in that list was St. Patrick's Day. One found not attending work or going about their daily business on St. Patrick's Day was subject to a fine of up to 20 shillings. If one was unable to pay, there were to be "whipped" in public.

Green is also a color associated with the island itself, hence the name Emerald Isle, another reason that people could wear the color.

Ironically, the color associated with St. Patrick himself is blue, not green, so in wearing the color, its more of a honor to the island and its people than the saint whose name the holiday honors.

Hughes may be reached at



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