St Patrick’s Day – a religious tribute to Ireland’s most famous saint or an excuse to drink until you turn green? Well, they are not mutually exclusive. Having done the overseas thing seemingly many years ago, I was always a bit surprised to find that the day meant more to Americans – who certainly celebrated in style – than it did in Ireland. Friends tell me that the Irish have more than rectified this in recent years.
So, who was Patrick? What did he do? And what should you drink?
Words by drinks writer, Ken Gargett
Lá Fhéile Pádraig – the day of the festival of Patrick, celebrated on March 17 – the day he is supposed to have died – has been an official ‘Christian feast day’ since the 17th century. It is now the most celebrated national festival on the planet and is a public holiday in Ireland, Newfoundland and Montserrat.
Judge for yourself whether the liberal application of alcohol has anything to do with that. In fact, so widespread and beloved is this day that it is regularly celebrated by the astronauts on the International Space Station, to the extent that one felt the need to post a clip of himself singing Danny Boy. He should consider himself lucky to have been allowed back to earth.
What do we know about Patrick, other than that he was a fifth-century Christian missionary? Well, apparently very little other than what Paddy wrote himself (which then got him dubbed a saint). Nice work, Paddy.
He claims to have been kidnapped by Irish pirates as a youth and whisked away to the Emerald Isle, to tend sheep, among which he found God. What God was doing hiding amongst the sheep was never explained.
So, not that one ever wishes to rain on any parade, especially not a St Paddy’s Day parade, but he was not Irish.
Miracles? Well, according to legend the bloke drove all the snakes out of Ireland (he is welcome at my place any summer). But according to history books, more than likely not, with the Ice Age beating him to it by several centuries. One theory has it that legend swapped snakes for druids, whom he was known to despise.
On this one day, the entire world seemingly turns green – Irish green that is, not environmentally so. Green clothes are dragged from the back of the cupboard, the beer turns green and in Chicago, they even transform their river green. However, it seems that St Patrick was originally associated with blue, not green, so why the change?
Adopting the Irish green perhaps? There is a little more to it than that. St Patrick’s green began in America. Irish Americans supposedly believed that leprechauns would pinch anyone they could see. They also believed leprechauns could not see green. Hence, to avoid being pinched, green was the colour of the day. That sounds like the sort of tale a leprechaun would tell.
I mentioned the American fascination with St Patrick’s Day. The first St Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York in 1762. Ireland did not hold a parade until 1931. Indeed, the pubs in Ireland remained firmly closed on March 17 until the 1970s. That did not mean, of course, that there was not the occasional drink behind closed doors, one suspects.
So where does that lead us to…five suitable tipples for everyone, from the true Irishman to those who don the green for a single day.
Perhaps the most famous beer, a stout, in the world. From humble beginnings in 1759, the brewery now makes some two billion Euros worth of Guinness every year. Not bad and not surprisingly, it is the most popular drink in Ireland. Arthur Guinness must have been some businessman, as well as a brewer. When he commenced operations in Dublin in 1759, he convinced locals to give him a 9,000-year lease on the brewery, for a mere £45 per annum. Ten years later, the first Guinness arrived in London.
There are, of course, many other fine Irish beers, but St Paddy’s Day must seem like Christmas to shareholders. But then, Guinness is a bit more difficult to turn green.
Want to start a fight between the Irish and the Scots? Mention soccer or rugby or pretty much anything, but for a real ding-dong battle, ask them who first created whisk(e)y (in Ireland, whisk(e)y is spelt with the ‘e’). The Irish have long insisted that Irish-Christian monks discovered the secrets of distillation while travelling in Arabia some 1,500 years ago and returned to put this knowledge into practice. The Scots can point to records showing that whisky was produced in Scotland as early as 1494 and point out that the Irish can put forward no such evidence. Ponder the question over a good Irish whiskey – Jameson, Knappogue Castle, Glendalough, Redbreast, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, Green Spot and more.
Simple, but simply delicious – it can be enjoyed 365 days of the year. A cup of good coffee to which is added some sugar (try a teaspoon of raw sugar – others like brown), a good slug of Irish whiskey and thick cream. Some will swap the whiskey for Bailey’s. Others just keep the Baileys and pour it over ice.
Here’s a shocker. Ireland is no more immune to the worldwide explosion of gin than anywhere else. They have them coming out the proverbial wazoo. Hold out no longer. Try Drumshanbo’s Gunpowder Irish Gin, Von Hallers, Feckin Irish Gin, Short Cross or Mor, among many, many others.
Granted, I have never tried this and I’m not sure I’ll be lining up, but I’m told it is a trendy Irish cocktail and even more so on St Patrick’s Day, as when mixed, it turns bright green. Blend WKD Blue, Bacardi Orange and Smirnoff Ice. For those not familiar, WKD Blue is a popular RTD based on vodka. At least in Ireland, it will be safe from snakes.
Note: No animals were harmed or forced to drink in this photo