It’s that time of year when green tinsel starts to sprout mysteriously from local taverns and oversized green hats emblazoned with shamrocks fill the shelves of the local deli. Saint Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, and it is enough to strike dread into my otherwise carefree heart.
It all began when I was representing my school house in an inter-house quiz. Starting everyone off with easy questions, the first pupil was asked what date Christmas Day was. I stood like a deer in the headlights, because I had this horrible feeling that they’d ask me what day St. Patrick’s Day fell on. I could never remember; to me it was just this vague day when it almost always rained (in Ireland, that doesn’t really narrow things down all that much) and we didn’t have to go to school. My mum told me later that, as she was sitting in the audience, she had the exact same premonition.
Sure enough, my turn came and the question I had dreaded rang out in the assembly hall. “What date is St. Patrick’s Day?“
The question was repeated, so I made a brave guess. “May…?”
Laughter. “Well, the month does begin with an m…” the teacher acting as question master tried to help as best he could.
“March” – yes, I was halfway there. A good round number ought to do it. “15th“, I said, definitively.
I made up for it with a blinding second round, and our school house ended up winning, but nothing could remove the memory of that traumatic first question.
The trauma associated with St. Patrick’s Day has only increased over the years since I left school, because I’ve spent many St. Patrick’s Days overseas, bewildered by the misconceptions associated with this holiday. So this year, I have decided to share 4 important pieces of information.
1. Bagpipes and kilts are not Irish
Bagpipes sound great and men in kilts are fantastic (right ladies?), but they are not Irish; they’re Scottish. Uilleann pipes are Irish, and they’re quite different to bagpipes. They have a sweeter, quieter sound than the Highland Bagpipes people usually refer to as bagpipes. Uilleann pipes are made to be played sitting down, unlike bagpipes which are played standing up, often on parade. Uilleann pipes are traditionally a social instrument; bagpipes are traditionally a military instrument.
Kilts originated in the Scottish Highlands around the mid 1500s, made from tartans representing different clans. While they may today be seen as representative of the entire Celtic culture, Irish tartans are a modern invention and there is no evidence of kilt-wearing in the Ireland of yore. Not that I’m complaining about kilt-wearing being on the increase, and I believe that utilikilts are the best thing that’s happened to men’s fashion in ages.
2. Green beer is an abomination
Craft, time-honoured tradition and love have gone into the brewing of a pint; don’t mess with it. Unless it’s Budweiser, which I’m not entirely sure counts as beer, in which case you can do whatever you like with it. Put green dye in an Irish person’s beer and you are liable to end up face down behind the bar with a pint of green beer reaching places you never knew you had.
3. Irish people do not wear green on St. Patrick’s Day
It would never cross my mind to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day. If anything, I’d probably try to avoid it. I was quite startled the first time someone pinched me for not wearing green. It’s a good job I’m a nice person at heart, because in all fairness, if you try to pinch an Irish person for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, you should really suffer a fate similar to the one you would incur by putting green dye in beer. See point 2 above.
4. It’s St. Patrick’s Day or Paddy’s Day
The Irish abbreviation of the boy’s name ‘Patrick’ is either ‘Pat’ or ‘Paddy’. ‘Patty’ or ‘Pattie’, on the other hand, is the abbreviation of the girl’s name Patricia.
St Patty’s Day is either a revolutionary suggestion that our patron saint was actually a woman, or at some point in history a hamburger was elevated to sainthood and is now celebrated worldwide on the same day the Irish celebrate Paddy’s Day.
Armed with this information, let me wish you a safe and happy Lá Fhéile Pádraig.