EVIDENTLY we’re all Oirish when it comes to grabbin’ for the green.
Even the most unlikely North American companies are now approaching March 17th with dollar signs in their eyes.
Admittedly, McDonald’s has sold its mint-flavoured Shamrock Shakes since 1970. Every year, myriad doughnut makers have green gut bombs on offer. But the p.r. types for President’s Choice also sent out a news release this week suggesting “This St. Patrick’s Day, Use PC G.R.E.E.N. Products.” Talk about grasping at emerald-coloured straws.
At least advertisements for edible Paddy’s Day treats make a lick of sense. I wasn’t surprised to find one in my email in-box from my favourite Granville Island meat vendor. After all, he must have a market year-round for his Irish corned beef, Guinness beef sausages and Cashel Blue cheese, and more power to him if he sells lots today. Why, I could fit all my Irish relatives under a leprechaun’s cocked hat, and yet this weekend, I crave a bit of soda bread meself. Hawking cleaning products because they’re Eire-green, though? Come off it, lads!
Of course it’s perfectly right for the Irish themselves to produce shamrock-flavoured “crisps” for March buyers. According to the U.K.’s Guardian online, a family of longtime potato farmers called Keogh has added a sour cream and shamrock variety to its line of crisps, joining such patriotic flavours as Roast Beef and Dungarvan Irish Stout. Now those’ll straighten yer shillelagh.
We probably can’t find Irish chips of any sort in North America, however. Instead, by way of joining in, we can purchase a green T-shirt that says “Kiss Me I’m Irish Or Drunk or Whatever.” That’s one of many St. Patrick’s Day items that last year raised the wrath of the U.S. Congressional Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, when Urban Outfitters sold them alongside hats featuring a figure on all fours, vomiting, bearing the slogan “Irish yoga.” (I wonder how the committee feels about the American cocktail named the Irish Car Bomb.)
The Congressional committee disliked Urban Outfitters promoting the pickled image that many Irish-Americans strive to dispel. Presumably it would also turn thumbs-down at another T-shirt on the market that reads, “I’m sick of all the Irish stereotypes. As soon as I finish this beer, I’m punching someone.”
The link in the public imagination between Irish folk and alcohol is hardly fresh or secret. The Guardian recently ran an article headlined “Do the Irish feel compelled to drink Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day?” It was prompted by an academic study of shopping habits by Northumbria University, which predicted that 13 million pints of Guinness would be consumed worldwide this Sunday.
“Alcohol consumption, when placed in the context of Ireland becomes instantly romanticized, attributed to one’s underlying Celtic soul,” wrote the study’s author, Matthew Kearney. “Ireland is synonymous with alcohol; although Ireland boasts world heritage sites, titanic (sic) museums and the birth and death sites of numerous authors and poets, its most popular tourist attraction is the Guinness Storehouse.”
Kearney went on to say that when famous individuals like U.S. president Barack Obama visit Ireland, they make a point of “publicly enjoying a Guinness experience,” furthering the general impression that booziness is “completely intertwined with Irishness.”
Even here in our own saintly land many of us are unclear on the concept of St. Patrick’s Day. Wikipedia states that it occasionally turns violent “due to the large number of intoxicated individuals celebrating in Canada.” Last year, for example, London, Ont. area college students insufficiently grateful for the literary contributions of Yeats, Joyce and Heaney set a TV van alight, then threw bottles at the firefighters trying to put out the blaze.
As you may know, Saint Patrick was born in AD 385. The feast day in his name was established early in the 17th century, but has evolved into a celebration of Irish culture.
I once asked Limerick-born Vancouver pub owner Sean Heather about his experience of St. Patrick’s Day as a child. One of the things he remembered most was the smell of his rain-soaked woolen uniform as he marched in the traditional religious parade. In his youth, it was a Catholic holy day, a public holiday, and a time for family, and, with pubs closed, was certainly not a community-wide drunk.
In fact, novelist Maeve Binchy claimed in a 2001 article in the New York Times that it was Irish Americans who set the party-hearty example for March 17th. It wasn’t long before their distant relatives happily opened the pubs and followed suit. It’s therefore a bit rich that outsiders now use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to get wasted, “Irish-style.”
Over-indulgence is obviously not the point. Around the world, Irish or not, civilized types use the date to publicly appreciate Ireland’s cultural contributions to dance, music, theatre, poetry, and cuisine. In 2011, such sober celebrants included astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman, who played the Irish flute and tin whistle at the International Space Station.
The emerald isle’s artistic legacy justifiably foments Irish pride. Presumably, wherever that’s the focus, there’ll be no need for cleanups afterward, G.R.E.E.N. or otherwise.