Tag Archives: St. Patrick’s Day

The annual curmudge

I’m a big old St Patrick’s Day curmudgeon. This is not news to anyone who was here last year or any other year. I don’t want to wear green today or get drunk today (well, sure, but children) or set up leprechaun traps today or listen to traditional Irish music today and I’m only just getting over the mortification of having to see Enda Kenny visit Donald Trump today.

When the word went out that this year’s international dinner at Dash’s school this Sunday would have live Irish music and dancing, I went from vaguely wondering if we could get out of it to deciding that I really didn’t have to show up to everything they put on.

Old map of Ireland, framed, from unusual perspective.

No, it’s not sideways. That’s the way they drew the map.

Then I wondered if I was really a terrible person, denying my children access to their heritage like that. Am I like one of those immigrants who refuses to speak the language of the old country to their children so that they’ll assimilate better, thus taking the wonderful benefits of bilingualism out of their family’s grasp?

Actually, no. I don’t like traditional Irish music or step dancing. It’s part of my national heritage, but it’s not something I feel any personal connection to. Same goes for GAA (that’s hurling and Gaelic football). And we’re not even Catholic any more. But you know what my kids will grow up with?

  • A Hiberno-English vocabulary that they can turn on and off at will.
  • A bookshelf full of books by British and Irish authors many of whom are less well known here, from Oliver Jeffers’ picture books to Joyce’s Ulysses and a lot in between.
  • Knowledge of the canon of Father Ted, Monty Python, The Two Ronnies, and various other bits and pieces of nerdy 80s trivia befitting children of Irish people our age.
  • A better grasp of Irish and European geography and history than many Americans.
  • An understanding that other countries are just as valid and real as the USA and that normal is an ever-shifting concept.
  • Familiarity with the Dublin Monopoly board.
  • Access to plenty of excellent Irish hits of the 80s and 90s, should they choose to indulge.
  • Their grandfather’s watercolours of Irish scenes and historical maps of Ireland on the walls.
A pile of books by authors including Marian Keyes, Kate O'Brien, James Joyce, Julia Donaldson, Liz Nugent, Flann O'Brien.

Not all Irish authors, but all from that side of the pond

And then there’s that book I wrote, too. It’s set in Ireland.

I think they’ll be secure enough in their cultural heritage even if it doesn’t extend to a spot of the old diddly-aye.

Framed watercolour painting of a Galway hooker with brown sails on the water

An Irish painting of an Irish boat

Paddy O’Rant

I was quite peeved with the whole St Patrick’s Day palaver this year, possibly even more than usual.

I’m a terrible Irish person, actually. I don’t like traditional music, I buy sweet potatoes more often than regular ones, and I find the colours of the flag garish and tacky. Every other day of the year I’ll loudly proclaim my nationality, but on March 17th in America if everyone’s jumping on that bandwagon I think I’d rather just jump off.

I’ve put a lot of thought into trying to figure out why this is, and how to explain it to Americans who feel I’m dissing their country’s tradition of celebrating the day, as it has been handed down by generations of emigrants a long time before I showed up with my snobby ideas about how it should be done properly.

The truth is, I don’t like it over there either. I don’t really like to make a big fuss of it. It seems jingoistic, and that’s a word that always went scathingly with “American” in my mind. Little flags and drum majorettes are not something I enjoy no matter what colours they sport, really.

But it is what it is, to coin an Irishism: those who are celebrating their national day, the day of their nation, are sometimes a bit put out when those who are celebrating the day of their heritage start to make it their own.

Irish people are pretty sure that, whatever the concrete shortcomings of our country – and there are many, and we will recount them at length for you – Ireland is in fact the best place in the world to be from, and it’s better to be from it, you yourself right now, than to have forebears who were from it.

As a small country with a big history of emigration, we have family all over the globe, and a reputation, deserved or not, for being friendly and welcoming. Everyone loves Irish people. We lap it up, the worldwide loving of us.

Saints and scholars, pints and poets, the green and the gold and the rain and the mists.

Americans (the nice ones, like all my friends) try very hard not to feel superior to anyone else, because they come from a huge and powerful country and wouldn’t want to look pushy. Germans have the terrible history of World War Two drilled into them lest they ever again decide to put themselves above any other nation. But Ireland, presumably like any other small, formerly colonial, country, has no such qualms. We’re jumping up and down at the back of the classroom with our hand up trying to get your attention, and when we do, we feel very entitled to hang on to it by making all sorts of eejits of ourselves so you don’t forget us.

We’re not a threat to anyone, that’s for sure, so all we can do is delight you with our entertaining ways, whether that’s in music or words or acting or donating to charity or being hilarious or drunk or a hilarious drunk or going out of our way to do a favour for a total stranger.

———

Anyway, I booked a ticket the other day so in a few weeks I’ll be over to inject myself with a quick shot of sea air and rain, Ireland style. Maybe it’ll make me less ranty.

Green hillside, grazing sheep, sea, clouds

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry; last July

 

St Patrick’s grump

I don’t know exactly why, but this year St Patrick’s Day in America is bringing out the curmudgeon in me. As a family, we’ve never really observed it here, by going to a parade or anything, though I suppose we could. It seems too hokey altogether to do that sort of thing. Next thing you know I’d be putting Mabel in a wig of red ringlets and sending her to step-dancing classes.

I’m also quite unjustifiably narky today about other people appropriating Ireland and deciding it’s something in the name of which they should get to wear green and drink alcohol and play tricks on their children.*

Mostly, my grump should be directed straight at Hallmark, who fairly reasonably – perhaps, in as much as they’re just in it for the profit – decided that nothing was happening in mid-March – Valentine’s is over; Easter isn’t here yet – and so all of America should push out the boat, dye it green, and decide to be Irish.

It was pointed out to me today, just as I was about to complain that nobody else’s national holiday is celebrated all over America, that it’s just the same with Cinco de Mayo (that’s the fifth of May, Mexico’s day of celebration). Any excuse for a party, all the better if it has some sort of food/drink/colour that can work into a theme for an eye-catching display of chips/dips/chocolate/trinkets in the supermarket, especially when half the country is still miserably buried under a thick blanket of snow.

In nursery school this week Mabel’s class have been decorating large shamrock-shaped pieces of card with green paint and green feathers and pompoms and furbelows and whathaveyou. Her two teachers, who hail from India and Africa, called them clover and didn’t know what the significance was, but that’s what they were doing all the same. This irked me, perhaps more than it should have. (I’m irkable, you may have noticed. Irk me at your peril.)

So I don’t think we’re doing anything special tomorrow. We’re not attending a potluck at the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, if there is one; we’re not planning to drink Shamrock Shakes at McD’s; and I don’t have a single potato in the house. If we wear green it will be by accident.

Maybe it’s because tomorrow is the day when it’s not remotely special to say you’re Irish in America.

*The tricks thing. Read my previous post about what Americans do for St Patrick’s Day.

Be the hokey (Irish names)

In honour of the day that’s in it, or almost in it, I thought I would provide some oft-needed information. Here’s a quick run-down on some popular Irish names, and “Irish” names, that you might encounter.

Irish names that people in Ireland actually give their children

Girls

Aisling
Pronounced “Ashling”. Means a dream, but not just any old dream. Specifically, the dream of Ireland personified as a beautiful woman.

Aoibheann
Pronounced “Eve-Ann”. Means beautiful.

Aoife
Pronounced “Ee-fah”.

Caoimhe
Pronounced “Kweeva” or sometimes “Keeva”.

Ciara
Pronounced “Keera”. If you want to pronounce it “Kee-ara”, then spell it Chiara and call it Italian. If you want to pronounce it “Sierra”, you’re probably some sort of pop princess.

Emer
(Or Eimear.) Pronounced Ee-mer, not eh-mer like United Arab Emirates.

Gráinne
Pronounced “Graw-nya”. Irish form of Grace.

Maedhbh
(Or even Maedb, for the purists.) Pronounced Maeve. Could also be spelled Maebh or simple Maeve.

Niamh
Pronounced “Neev” or, more correctly, “Nee-uv” with two syllables.

Saibh
(Or Sadhbh.) Pronounced “Sive” to rhyme with five.

Saoirse
Pronounced “Seersha”. Means freedom.

Siobhán
Pronounced “Shiv-awn”.

Boys

Daragh
Pronounced “Dara” with a flat a as in the first of animal, or possibly “Darra” with a less flat a as in star. Some people will claim that Dara is a girl’s name and Daragh (or Darragh) is the boy’s version, but then you’ll walk out of the room and meet one who works it the other way around.

Eoghan
Irish spelling of Owen. (A variant of John, and of course Seán.)

Naoise
Pronounced “Neesha”. Can work for a boy or a girl.

Oisín
Pronounced “Usheen”. Like Usher, but with an -een instead. No relation to hoisin sauce.

Pádraig
Pronounced “Paw-drig” or maybe “Paw-rig”. The Irish form of Patrick. Because Patrick isn’t Irish enough, you know.

“Irish” names that people in other countries like to give their children

Girls

Caitlin
I have to tread carefully here, as I have a good friend with this name. But many people are unaware that it’s simply a back-formation of Kathleen. The name Kathleen in Irish is spelled Cáitlín, but pronounced Cawt-leen, which sounds a lot more like Kathleen than the pronounciation Americans have given to the spelling. Have you considered Kate-Lynn?
 
Colleen
This is the phonetic spelling of the Irish word “cailín”, which means “girl”. It’s no worse than calling your child Nina, I suppose, but really, it’s just a noun. Maybe if you were surprised that she wasn’t a boy.

Erin
Erin is the Irish word for Ireland. It’s like calling your daughter America. Again, many people do. I even know native-born Erins in Ireland. But it’s also a brand of tinned foods and ready-made gravy, so you might want to take that into account.

Shannon
The Shannon is the longest river in Ireland. If you’d quite like to call your daughter Amazon or Mississippi or Danube, but you want an Irish air, then go for it.

Boys

Kelly
It’s a last name. And a shade of green. It’s not a first name in Ireland, for a boy or a girl.

Shawn
Don’t spell it this way. Spell it Seán or just call him John. Please.

A few real Irish names that travel well

Boys
Aidan
Conor
Cormac
Fergus
Killian (or Cillian, but then you have to tell people it’s not pronounced Sillian)
Liam
Patrick

Girls
Fiona
Maeve
Orla
Tara

Do you have any more to add to my lists? Any mystery names whose pronounciation I can clarify for you? Have I mortally offended any Erins out there?

If you’d like to read more about St Patrick’s day at home and abroad, may I suggest:
Cultural exchange of information

Cultural exchange of information

Some facts about St Patrick’s Day in Ireland that American readers might not know:

– St Patrick’s Day may be called Paddy’s Day, but never, ever Patty’s Day. Ever.

– St Patrick’s Day is the national holiday, so it’s a day off school and work for everyone. But it’s also a holy day, because of the Saint bit, so you have to go to Mass. Before Mass you get a little bunch of shamrock, preferably with a clod of earth still attached, and you affix it to your lapel, like a very agricultural corsage. (I don’t know where you get it. From your mother, usually. She gets it from her dealer, over a cup of extra-milky tea and some contraband custard creams. I suppose.)

– If you don’t go to Mass, you miss your chance to sing the hymn of the day, Hail Glorious Saint Patrick, which is wheeled out just once a year, and which you’ve been practising in school all week.

– On Saint Patrick’s Day you have a special dispensation from on high to break Lent. This means that if you’ve given up sweets for the 40 days prior to Easter – within which March 17 always falls – you are allowed to buy a large bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and eat it while watching the parade. If you’ve given up the holy trinity of sweets, crisps, and chocolate, you can have a pack of Tayto as well. And maybe a bag of Milky Moos, but only if you go to the cinema.

– Depending on the weather, you may choose to go home and watch the parade on telly. This is allowed. If you decide to brave the rain/hail/sleet anyway, you will be rewarded with the sight of all the poor Texan majorettes in their short skirts and flesh-coloured tights failing to mask the goosebumps wondering why they came. But, to be honest, you can see that on telly too, so I’m not sure what the point is, except to feel like you earned your Dairy Milk. If your fingers aren’t too numb to break off the squares.

– There are no leprechauns. If there are leprechauns on St Patrick’s Day, they are deeply, deeply ironic ones. The Irish are a cynical, sardonic, hard-bitten race, and we know that the only thing at the end of the rainbow is rain, and banks lining their pockets with tax-payers’ money.

Some facts about St Patrick’s Day in America that Irish people might be interested to hear:

– Americans think we eat corned beef and cabbage all the time. I’ve explained numerous times this week that it’s meant to be bacon and cabbage, if we ate it at all, which most of us don’t. Corned beef is the Irish-American substitute because you can’t get the right sort of bacon here.

– If you don’t wear some item of green clothing on the 17th of March, people are allowed to pinch you.

– Americans have shamrocks and four-leafed clovers inextricably mixed up. Because four-leafed clovers are lucky, and shamrocks are Irish, and luck and Irish go together, so… that makes perfect sense.

– On the 16th of March children all over the USA are hard at work making leprechaun traps. The next morning they come downstairs, or go to school, to find that a mischeivous sprite has wreaked a little havoc with the toys or in the kitchen, maybe left a few green footprints, and possibly a peace offering of some green cookies or cupcakes.

I don’t know why Americans find it necessary to give their children imaginary nighttime visitors so often: I’ve already carped about Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy will soon be breathing down our necks, but I didn’t realise till last year that the Easter Bunny was also a real, live, fictional character whose cover I wasn’t meant to blow while parents sowed the lawn with pastel plastic eggs – and now this. I’m a bit appalled. I may be That Parent if this sort of thing is perpetrated next year. (Monkey missed school today due to continuing pinkness of eye.) And I’m a big old curmudgeon, I know.

Happy Day of Greenness. I dressed the children in yellow and pink, and we had red lentil coconut curry for dinner.