St Patrick’s Day in Ireland

Shamrocks - pick a few and tuck them in your pocket!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

But first, please save me from American advertising!  Whoever started the change from Paddy to Patty should be taken behind the barn and pelted with cooked cabbage.  Patty is a girl’s name, for heaven’s sake, and nothing to do with the venerated Irish saint.

Patrick, in Irish, is Pádraig.  Pronounced something along the lines of pah-drig or poh-rig, depending on which part of Ireland you’re from (and how much this American can mis-interpret Irish pronunciation).  Pádraig is no doubt where the nickname Paddy comes from, so please don’t say Patty.  Madison Avenue, are you listening?  More to the point, local PR firms putting ads in local newspapers and TV stations, are you listening??

OK, rant over.  I promise.  Maybe.

One more comment about St. Patrick’s name.  If the Irish shorten it to anything, it’s St. Pat’s, or just Patrick.  That seems to go for anything from the holiday to churches to streets. (“Patrick Street” in Cork city is actually “St. Patrick Street,” but hardly anyone says that.)

Americans may think corned beef and cabbage is the traditional celebratory Irish dish, but I’m not sure the Irish know what it is!  (Well, actually, I think Ireland used to make a lot of corned beef, but it all got sent overseas.)  What they do have is “bacon-and-cabbage” which sounds weird but is scrumptious.  Bacon over there is more like our ham, and while I’m sure it can be fixed quickly, some recipes take three days of cooking!  And it shows up year round (bacon and cabbage nights, followed by a dance, are popular fundraisers), not just on March 17.  You’re as likely to find a nice salmon or chicken dish, or even Irish stew, as you are bacon and cabbage for the holiday.

The other thing Americans get hung up on is giant, bright green shamrocks – it can’t be St. Patrick’s Day without them.  I think they’re fun, but you’ll only see them occasionally in Ireland in window displays (very occasionally).

The shamrocks you do see are darling – a small bunch of real shamrocks tucked in a breast pocket or pinned on a shirt.  They’re wilted by the end of the day, but it’s a small reminder to carry with you.  At least, that’s what I saw living half out in the country.  I have no idea what Dubliners do!

"Leprechauns" in the St Patrick's Day parade in Bandon, Co Cork

The standard decorations in Ireland are a lot of flags and Irish colors.  Orange, green and white t-shirts, parade costumes, silly socks, and filling shop windows.  Even the leprechaun costumes are green hats and orange beard.!

Oh yes, the parades.  St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday, and even the smaller towns hold parades.  They may be fancy affairs in the cities, but they’re charming and home-grown in the outlying areas.  Pipe and drum bands, dancers, old fire engines – delightful.  The children watching (and a few grown-ups, too) are often dressed in costumes.

And dancing – it’s not hard to find a céilí (kay-lee) no matter what part of the country you’re in, often combined with a dinner.  It’s great craic, lots of music, dancing with whoever will stand up with you, laughter and pushes in the right direction until you get the hang of it, out of breath and nearly keeling over when you finally take a break.  And taxis to take                                                                                 you home if you have a few too many pints.  Hmm,                                                                                      I think a céilí needs its own post.

Céilí in Carrigaline, Co Cork. (Sorry, camera color wasn't good, sepia is the best I could do.)

Beyond the small local celebrations, Ireland’s cities all have St. Patrick’s Day festivals stretching across several days – stages of musicians and dancers, beer festivals (Guinness, Murphys or something else?), historical walks, children’s games, street performers, scrumptious food, parades, fireworks, and loads and loads of trad music.  You name it, you can find it sometime around March 17th.

For Americans who can’t be in Ireland, it’s usually the music that tugs at our hearts.  So here’s a short clip about Cork’s festival that will have you tapping your toes while you watch.  And happy St. Patrick’s Day!


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