Everyone is Irish on March 17.
St. Patrick’s Day, the feast day for Ireland’s patron saint, has become somewhat of a National Holiday in the United States, replete with all the trappings; wearing green, wearing a shamrock, believing in little men who hide pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and most importantly drinking as much Guinness and whisky as one can!
And this Friday afternoon, the Cellar will help you to get into the spirit of things with a very special, St. Patrick’s Day Tasting!
Drinking a pint of Guinness is one of the most important things to do in Ireland, and on St. Patrick’s Day, this Guinness drinking reaches a whole new level. During St.Patrick’s Day in Ireland, 13 million pints of Guinness are consumed, but you would be hard pressed to find a pub in Ireland that served green beer – Dublin, may have a few pubs that will serve it for visiting American cousins, but did you know that for a long time, all pubs in Ireland had to remain shut for St Patrick’s Day? It wasn’t until the late 1970’s that Irish law permitted pubs to open their doors on March 17th.
Lots of myths have sprung up around St Patrick’s day, including that aforementioned (and ever elusive), pot of gold
Belief in leprechauns stems from the Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who could use their magical powers to serve good or evil. In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were cranky little souls, responsible for mending the shoes of the other fairies. Though only minor figures in Celtic folklore, leprechauns were known for their trickery, which they often used to protect their much-fabled treasure.
St. Patrick too has become the stuff of legend. It has long been recounted that, during his mission in Ireland, St. Patrick (who was a Romanized British citizen, not Irish), once stood on a hilltop (which is now called Croagh Patrick), and with only a wooden staff by his side, banished all the snakes from Ireland.
In fact, the island nation was never home to any snakes (other than the ones tattooed in blue woad on the wrists of more than a few Celts.) The “banishing of the snakes” was simply a metaphor for the eradication of pagan ideology from Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. Within 200 years of Patrick’s arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.
And did you know that the shamrock, which was also called the “seamroy” by the Celts, was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring, but by the seventeenth century, the plant had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism? As the English began to seize Irish land and make laws against the use of the Irish language and the practice of Catholicism, many Irish began to wear the shamrock as a symbol of their pride in their heritage and their displeasure with English rule.
In Ireland the holiday was traditionally celebrated a little differently than it is here in the States. When Mass was over, the mother and children would hurry back to the house to begin preparing the feast, while just as quickly, the men headed for the pub to drink the ‘Pota Pádraig’ or St. Patrick’s Pot.
After one (or more!) St. Patrick’s Pots, the men returned home for the feast. Usually a nice side of cured pork with mashed potatoes and perhaps some cabbage. Corned beef and cabbage? Not back then, and not even now is this a traditional St. Patrick’ s Day dinner in Ireland!
It’s a custom that was begun by immigrants in the States, who, in longing for their native land, tried to recreate a meal that would remind them of home, and substituted locally available beef for the original cured pork. Along with corned beef, the first St Patrick’s Day parade occurred in New York City during 1766. Today parades for St Patrick’s Day are held all over the world inviting millions of people to celebrate being Irish for a day
But on the Emerald Isle, old customs continued to be kept, When dinner was over, many families either went to a caeli or held one in their homes. Music is major part of St. Patrick’s Day—and Irish culture in general. From the ancient days of the Celts, music has always been an important part of Irish life. The Celts had a Bardic tradition, where culture, legend and history were passed from one generation to the next by way of story, poetry and song. (Hence the Irish gift of the gab!)
After being conquered by the English, and forbidden to speak their own language, the Irish, like other oppressed peoples, turned to music to help them remember important events and hold on to their heritage and history. As it often stirred emotion and helped to galvanize people, music was outlawed by the English. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth I even decreed that all artists and pipers were to be arrested and hanged on the spot.
The musical instruments stored away on Shrove Tuesday were brought out and the evening was spent in singing, dancing, telling stories – and yes, the drinking continued! After all, there were still several weeks of fasting and abstinence ahead, so it was the order of the day to over-indulge just a bit. No doubt, the children were sick from eating too many sweets, and their parents probably suffered from headaches the next day, but n the eyes of the church, this would have been a most appropriate penance for having broken the rules of Lent!
At the end of the evening, there was one last custom to observe: ‘drowning the Shamrock.’ A leaf that had been worn in the cap or coat was placed into the bottom of the final glass. When everyone’s health had been drunk or a toast honored, the shamrock was taken from the bottom of the glass and thrown over the left shoulder. Also, in some parts of Southern Ireland, a cross was marked with the end of a burnt stick on the sleeve of each person at the gathering. This was done with a prayer that the individual so marked might be constant in their faith.
So now that you are armed with a few facts, don’t be a stick in the mud! Help add to the statistics and head over to the Cellar this Friday afternoon! There will be Guinness (of course), and they will be offering Powers, which is a fine Irish whiskey, along with Coole Swan Irish Cream (perfect dessert option – add berries and shaved chocolate), to taste in honor of St. Patty’s Day.
Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of the whiskey to take home (St. Patrick’s Day is on Sunday), before strolling over to Cid’s next door, for a bag of good coffee beans.
A good Irish coffee should look like a pint of pulled Guinness. There should be a cold, thick, firm, creamy head on top of the dark, clear, scalding hot coffee and whiskey mixture. It definitely should not have mixed or curdled, Half the pleasure of an Irish coffee is sipping the hot coffee/whiskey through a layer of cold cream.
Having had the good luck of a father who’s business, for a time, was based in Ireland, I know a few things about the Emerald Isle, one of them being a recipe for authentic Irish coffee!
Irish coffee recipe:
Half fill a glass with strong black hot coffee, add sugar and a generous measure of Irish whiskey, stir and allow to settle, drop in a good dollop of freshly whipped cream, the thicker the better, then it will not sink. Sip slowly in front of a blazing fire with your feet up.
For more on the St. Patrick’s Day tasting at the Cellar this Friday March 15th from 4PM-6PM, please visit their site linked below.
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