BY ANNIE CRENSHAW
People in many countries celebrate this Irish patron saint’s designated day on March 17th. They wear green, play Celtic music, enjoy Irish dances, consume Irish food and beverages, and (“B.C.” or before Covid) participate in crowded, colorful Irish heritage parades.
St. Patrick – who was actually British, and not Irish – was a 5th-century missionary credited with promoting Christianity in Ireland.
Patrick incorporated traditional beliefs and rituals into his teachings, instead of trying to eradicate native Irish beliefs.
He is said to have used the shamrock (three-leaved clover) to illustrate how three separate leaves, united by one stem, reflected the Holy Trinity of Christianity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
He used bonfires to celebrate Easter, since the Irish were accustomed to honoring their gods with fire.
He superimposed the sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a “Celtic cross,” so that honoring the cross would seem more natural to the Irish.
St. Patrick’s famous miracles include banishing snakes from Ireland. It’s an apocryphal story that has no basis in fact, but it makes a GREAT legend!
March 17th is celebrated as a day honoring Patrick’s supposed date of death.
Dublin, Ireland, has had the most famous St. Patrick’s Day celebration for decades – with days and days of music and street performances, an Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival, boat races and other competitions, and (of course) a grand finale with a spectacular parade.
Sydney, Australia is another crowd-drawing Irish party venue on March 17. Montreal, London, and Munich all party in green on St. Patrick’s Day.
Buenos Aires is home to the fifth-largest Irish community in the world. The city’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration is the largest in South America.
Here in the good old U.S. of A., New York City has held a St. Patrick’s Day parade since 1756. Philadelphia has hosted one for nearly as long a time.
Chicago has had St. Patrick’s Day parades since 1843, and Boston and Savannah compete for the most “Irish” tourists with their wildly popular celebrations on March 17.
Are you ready to celebrate a little Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day? Of course you are!
Celebrating Irish Heritage at Home
For folks staying at home nowadays – those of you who aren’t dying the rivers green, dancing in parades, or putting green spotlights on public buildings – what about an Irish dinner on St. Patrick’s Day?
Contrary to popular American belief, the Irish don’t traditionally eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day.
A St. Patrick’s Day meal in Ireland is like a “Sunday dinner” meal in the United States. The cook would often serve fresh lamb or pork from the farm yard beside the cottage, rather than the preserved, less common, corned beef.
Since Ireland is a largely agricultural country, cultivated vegetables – particularly root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, carrots and onions, along with cabbage – have been fundamental to daily life since early times.
When the potato crop failed in the 1840s, over a million native Irish people died, and even more emigrated to escape poverty and starvation.
Today, Irish food and recipes give us a wonderful view of Irish history. The names might be unfamiliar, but these dishes are delicious.
Try champ (potatoes, onions, milk, and LOTS golden Irish butter), colcannon (just add green cabbage to the champ recipe), boxty pancakes, potato farls (another pancake – a favorite with my Canadian-Irish cousins), flummery (a classic oatmeal dish), barm brack (dense, sweet fruit bread), fadge (potato bread), soda bread (both brown and white), cockle and mussel pie, black and white pudding, Donegal Pie, Dublin Coddle, Ulster Fry, Guinness Cake (made with the famous black beverage of Ireland) and more.
The closest “Irish” restaurant food you’ll find in our part of the world is probably at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola. Their menu features traditional favorites like “Steak & Mushroom Pie” and “Irish Lamb Stew,” as well as American hamburgers and Gulf seafood dishes.
A treasure of Irish food is available – delivered right to your door – by merchants like “Tommy Moloney’s Irish Meats and Gift Baskets.” Visit www.TommyMoloneys.com.
If you’re a kitchen-loving person and cook, you can try almost any Irish recipe at home. Soda bread is easy, and there are a variety of simple Irish recipes on-line and in cookbooks.
I prefer to browse “real” recipes in cookbooks, myself – many of which I’ve found on my trips to visit cousins in Ireland. And, I like lamb dishes (which you get EVERYWHERE in Ireland), but you can substitute pork in most Irish recipes if lamb isn’t your favorite meat.
If you’re feeling lucky and in the mood to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a video or two, watch a few golden oldies of the cinema like “The Luck of the Irish” (1948) with Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter and Lee J. Cobb. It’s a cheerful Hollywood movie that involves (what else?) leprechauns.
“The Quiet Man” (1952), with John Wayne, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, and Maureen O’Hara and half her family, is a sentimental look at Ireland with great banter between the stars. It was filmed in Ireland and has absolutely gorgeous scenery.
“Darby O’Gill And the Little People” (1959) is a Walt Disney family classic with leprechauns, a pot of gold, and a VERY young Sean Connery. James Bond himself!
“Finian’s Rainbow” (1968) is a musical fantasy film starring the singing and dancing of the amazing Fred Astaire, playing an elderly Irish immigrant with a stolen pot of gold, and Petula Clark as his daughter.
It has a ridiculous, heartwarming story, directed by the young Francis Ford Coppola of later “Godfather” fame.
By the way, Coppola said in a recent interview for The Guardian newspaper: “We need to see each other as family. You and I are relatives. You go way back to your first grandmother and mine is the same woman. All humans living today are blood relatives, and therefore we must embrace each other and work with each other and lift each other up. Because we’re family. We’re the human family.” Well said!
And then there’s “Riverdance,” the delightful and incredibly lively stage show celebrating traditional Irish music and dance. Be prepared to tap your feet and find yourself humming these tunes, days and days afterwards.
If you make a step-dance move or two, when nobody’s looking, it’s only that wee bit o’ Irish in you!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!