17 March 2017

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

By Art Taylor

Yesterday was my birthday—March 16, for anyone reading this later—and having a birthday so close to St. Patrick's Day always made it one of my favorite holidays as a child. I was and still am insistent about wearing green on March 17—my favorite color generally—and I remember wearing a shamrock pin to school one year as well. When my dad filled out the 1980 U.S. Census, he put down Irish for the question on ancestry (at my urging), though I don't think either of my parents have actually traced that back. (The likelihood is that it's true, given the predominance of Scotch-Irish settlements in my native North Carolina.) In another little quirk: At one point, much younger of course, I thought I might actually be a leprechaun—wishful thinking for those of us of smaller stature.

More recently, when my wife Tara and I got married, we went to Ireland on our honeymoon—including being in Dublin for Bloomsday!—and a few years later, I led a student group to Ireland again for a creative writing Winter Study Abroad. And I'll admit that I have a fondness for Irish writers and for stories set in Ireland. I was reading just recently some of Edna O'Brien's short fiction, and William Trevor's stories are (as anyone who's read him knows) among the best ever, and then another Irish writer, John McGahern, wrote an odd little story that still stands as one of my favorites: "The Beginning of an Idea." As with so many crime fiction fans, Tana French is at the top of my list of great mystery writers today, and just this week, I was excited to see that another friend in the mystery community, Sheila Connolly, has a new book out in her County Cork series: Cruel Winter—which was timely in several ways, since the big winter storm helped to welcome it into the world! There's dozens more writers I could likely point to here, but these are the ones that jumped to mind first.

Despite my long-standing love of Ireland and the Irish, however, I have to admit that I no longer count St. Patrick's Day as a favorite holiday. In fact, some aspects of the day have overwhelmed my otherwise long-standing enthusiasms for it—and the same is true of New Year's Eve (which may already give you a hint of where I'm going with this). 

Now, anyone who knows me well knows how much I appreciate a nice cocktail, but especially at my advancing age (circling back to that birthday I mentioned in the opening), going out on a raucous drinking binge is about the last thing I want to do, and in my mind both New Year's and St. Patrick's have become synonymous with those types of parties: crowded bars, overindulgence, and all the fall-out from that overindulgence—ultimately less a toast to the occasion than an excuse for excessive alcohol consumption.

Or maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly. 

For those who still do head out for public celebrations of St. Patrick's Day, are my impressions actually the case? Or have I fallen prey to some stereotypes about the festivities?

And maybe a better question: For those of you who, like me, admire Ireland and the Irish, how do you raise a toast to today? 

I'll be sipping a glass of Green Spot myself at some point—and maybe revisiting a favorite story or two. And I'll be sporting some green too—one tradition that I inevitably keep. 

However you celebrate, Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!


  1. Happy Birthday and Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, Art! Your Irish adventures sound great. I have a friend who moved there and she seems very happy about the move. And in addition to all the great writers you mention, Turner Classics (hey, I'm a movie guy) is doing Irish movies all day.

  2. Happy Birthday and Happy St. Patrick's Day
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  3. Happy Birthday and Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    You remind me of my experience of being in Scotland for New Year's. I think my ancestry was in doubt when it was revealed on Hogmanay that I am a virtual non-drinker.

  4. My mother's father was Irish, or so I was told during my formative years, and my mother had the freckles and auburn hair to suggest she might have been telling the truth. She also had a healthy collection of Irish music, so I grew up listening to it. But I never lived anywhere with a large and visible Irish community, so I've no strong connection to my heritage. Still, a visit to Ireland is on my bucket list.

    Anyhow, happy birthday!

  5. Thanks, y'all — for the birthday wishes and for the Irish-themed comments too!

  6. Great column, Art!! Happy birthday to you.

    March 17th is also the birthday of our son Michael, so it's a special day for us as well.

  7. Happy St. Patrick's Day, Art! I concur about the excesses of the day, but must also confess to having over-imbibed on many of them. Like you, the family and I have been to Ireland a number of times, the last being a few years ago with my son. We did a literary tour, among other things, and actually celebrated St. Paddy's on O'Donnell Street. I observed some excesses being practiced there, but fortunately for us, we had attended morning Mass and were immune to temptation, not having our first drink until some minutes after the noon hour had struck. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, my son has gone on to be something of a scholar of Irish literature. Generally, Robin and I celebrate the day quietly, as it so often (always?) falls during Lent when I've sacrificed the bottle for more spiritual pursuits. Robin is still waiting for the hoped-for results. She's a remarkably patient woman.

    Loved the article, Art. Thanks.

  8. Thanks, John and David!

    Happy birthday to your son Michael, John--hope you get to celebrate with him!

    And thanks, David, for the memories of your own trips to Ireland and about your own son--glad he's become a fan of Irish lit! Hope you enjoy your day as well (more or less, depending on what you've given up for Lent this year)--and best wishes that Robin's patience pays off.... :-)

  9. Happy birthday once again, Art! I don't have any Irish ancestry, travels, or customs to share, but here's a bit of Irish lore I believe to be true. (I've heard it from several sources, including Food Network's Alton Brown--and I'd never dare doubt anything he says about food.) We think of corned beef and cabbage as a classic Irish dish, but apparently it originated in America, not Ireland. When Irish immigrants came to America, they couldn't find the inexpensive cuts of mutton they relied on back home. But they often lived in the same neighborhoods as Jewish immigrants, and that's how they learned about beef brisket--an inexpensive, tough cut that turns delicious when you cook it for a long, long time. Jewish corned beef recipes tend to be tangier than Irish ones, and we don't tend to cook corned beef and cabbage together--we blanch our cabbage leaves, stuff them with a ground beef mixture, and cook the rolls in a sweet-and-sour tomato sauce for a dish called holishkes. But it's a bit of shared heritage.

  10. "Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!”

  11. Happy birthday, and Happy St. Patrick's Day!
    We never have corned beef and cabbage, because my husband's Irish, and, as BK said, it's not an Irish dish. Instead, we had salmon!

  12. Art, my great-grandfather was an Irish sea-captain, and a storyteller of great renown, I"m told. So I'll be wearing green and having a wee dram of the Irish tonight. (I'm sure he would be pleased to know that my boat goes in the water in a few weeks - grin.)

  13. Happy belated Birthday, Art.

    My folks told us kids we were 1/4 Scots Irish, in which case we figured it was part Scot and part Irish, but it wasn't until after they were gone that I got to wondering if that's what they meant or if they meant the Irish who were transported to Scotland to work as laborers on various projects and were known as Scots Irish. That's the trouble with research, you keep finding out new stuff.

  14. Hi, Bonnie, Larry, Eve, Melodie and RT -- Thanks for the comments!

    Bonnie, that's an interesting bit of history, and thanks for sharing! (And Eve, I've had a bit of salmon myself over the last few days; that's the thing that stands out to me about my own time in Ireland, how ubiquitous it was on our menus.)

    And RT, I laughed at that, too. When looking at migration history into the Carolinas, they always use that same phrase, but parsing out what it means.... another story!


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