This is the week of the great Irish holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. The holiday falls on March 17, the traditional death date of St. Patrick, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. The day was made an official Christian feast day by the Catholic Church in the early 17th century.
In recent years, a tradition has developed that Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. The holiday is celebrated not only in Ireland, but also in America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand especially among relocated Irish.
It is easy to love the Irish for their humor, passion, charm, music, food, their tragic history and their red hair and freckles (for the Irish who still have them). St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with public parades and festivals, wearing of green attire or shamrocks, banquets and dances, even church services.
I have always felt that the Irish have the saddest of sad songs. If “Oh Danny Boy,” the song sung by a father to his son going off to war, doesn’t choke you up, you don’t have genuine feelings. "Danny Boy" is sung at birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and especially funerals. If you want to hear one sad Irish song after another, listen to Connie Francis singing Irish favorites. I’m listening to her now as I write to you.
The Irish have a history of suffering full of tragedy and hardship. "Danny Boy" is the anthem of Northern Ireland and symbolic of its generations of tragedy or its generations of bitter tears.
Another tragic chapter in Irish history was the Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger. The famine started in 1845 when a fungus-like organism spread rapidly through Ireland. The infestation ruined up to one half of the potato crop that year and about three-quarters of the crops over the next seven years. The tenant farmers of Ireland (then ruled as a colony of Great Britain) relied heavily on the potato as a source of food as well as their primary cash crop. Before it ended in 1852, the famine resulted in the death of roughly one million Irish from starvation and related causes with another million forced to leave their homeland. Many immigrated to America where they were resented and treated like trash.
I love Irish food. Irish stew is great at any time, but the top Irish meal of the year for me is corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m looking forward to that treat again this year.
But in Irish cuisine, the potato, often called the only food the poor could afford, has found its way into almost all traditional dishes.
The Irish wouldn’t be the Irish without their sense of humor. For example, Paddy said to Mick “Mick, I’m thinking about getting a Labrador.” “I’d be careful if I were you” said Mick, “have you seen how many of their owners go blind?”
Finally, there is the story of two nuns who were painting their room in an Irish convent in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day. They decided to lock their door and strip naked so they wouldn’t get paint on their robes. Seconds later, there was a knock on the door. “Who is it?” shouted the nuns. “Blind man” said the voice. The two nuns looked at each other and shrugged.
They decided no harm could come from letting a blind man in the room. They opened the door.
“Oh Mary, Mother and Joseph, Faith and Begorrah” said the man. “Where do you want the blinds?”