by Brule Eagan
This is March, which means one of Chicago’s biggest annual celebrations is closing in. And as one steeped in the great Irish traditions, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how you can make the most of St. Patrick’s Day.
To establish my credentials, most of the Irish in me comes from me sainted Irish mum. Mary Patricia Josephine Stone was the toast of Boston. She was born on March 18th of 1914 — a day late, I know, but she always celebrated on the 17th. Catholic to her marrow, with a full head of red hair that lasted all of her 98 years. Her younger brother William Francis Stone, my Uncle Billy, was straight out of Central Casting. Spoke with a brogue, Billy did, and after the War, he had a long career of cadging drinks from the patrons of the bar next to the burlesque house on Scollay Square, where he was a baggy-pants comedian. So I know what I’m talking about here. And the following is my advice for thoroughly enjoying the feast day of Saint Patrick:
Avoid Irish Pubs. If New Year’s Eve is Amateur Night for drinkers, St. Patrick’s Day is the night for Rookies Of The Year. You don’t want to be around Butch’s, Chief’s, Fado, the Curragh, or Peggy Kinnane’s if you wind up in Arlington Heights. If you can’t avoid them, you might consider wearing galoshes, since you’re sure to inadvertently encounter some green beer that’s been recycled in some form or fashion. If you’re hell-bent on getting swizzled, do it at home, where, at least (to be delicate), you’ll know where to recycle that green beer.
Come to think of it, you should avoid green beer. None of it is genuine Irish beer, and most of it is made by the company represented by Clydesdale horses. You don’t want to know what horses have to do with the making of beer.
Guinness stout is Ireland on tap — has been since Arthur Guinness started the brewery in Dublin in 1759 — and it’s the beverage of workingmen, brigands, rogues, and Victor McLaglen in “The Quiet Man”. If it’s too heavy for your taste, treat yourself to a six-pack of Harp Lager (also from Guinness). Don’t drink all six at once. You’re not Victor McLaglen.
If you’re a hardier sort, Jameson’s, Bushmills, Powers, and Tullamore Dew are the old reliables among Irish Whiskeys, and they’re fine, but, hey. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. Treat yourself to Knappogue Castle (a 12-year-old single malt), or my favorite, Redbreast, which is most-readily available in the 12-year-old variety, but they have a 15-year-old, and have just introduced a 21-year-old single pot still Irish Whiskey. If you cannot avoid visiting a pub, just tell the bartender “Redbreast, rocks”. You’ll get an excellent drink along with a wry and knowing smile from the barkeep, one of the rarest validations in life.
Or you can always ask for an Irish Coffee, which combines a stimulant with a depressant: the most bipolar of drinks.
When it comes to food, corned beef and cabbage is, surprisingly, not one of the traditional Irish dishes. Bacon and cabbage is quite popular, and is customarily served with potatoes. Actually, most Irish food is laden with pork fat and carbohydrate-packed potatoes, so you’d probably be better off just drinking. If your neighborhood bakery offers Irish Soda Bread, break off a crust of that, and wash it down with beer. That alone has fortified generations of Southside Irish.
From a musical standpoint, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem are staples you cannot avoid…but do the best you can. Perhaps you’ll come across some old Arthur Godfrey and Carmel Quinn 78s at a yard sale. Those serve a multicultural function. Not only are they inauthentic Irish, but the discs themselves are brittle, and can substitute nicely for plates at a Greek dinner. James Galway is fine, but he’s frequently more depressing than lively. Stick with The Chieftains, especially when Van Morrison joins them in “Star Of The County Down”. And if your taste runs to Irish tenors, then Ronan Tynan is your man, although it’s my opinion that the market for tenors really belongs to the Italians.
Fighting is one of the time-honored traditions of the Irish, but I won’t cover that here. If the proprietor of The Chicago Progressive starts a publication called The Chicago Hothead, I’ll furnish an essay.
Finally, the language. It’s easy to do your best Barry Fitzgerald, and you may even blow it by most people, but to celebrate in the authentic Irish fashion, you must learn the proper vulgarities. A handy source easily accessible on your smartphone is irishslang.org. Not only do they offer a list of Irish oaths and epithets, they demonstrate each offering as it might be used in conversation, so any feckin’ eejit can swear like a McInerney or an O’Herlihy. And I’ll use their own examples. For instance, “jacks”. That means “toilet”, as in “Jaysus, I just destroyed the jacks. There’s porcelain everywhere.” Or “oats”. Not the steel-cut breakfast variety. Sexual intercourse. “Bit of advice, son. Don’t ever tell a woman she’s a stupid fat cow with the personality of a feckin’ toothpick and a face like a bag of spanners. I haven’t got my oats off your mother in three feckin’ weeks. The disagreeable b….” That’s only two, and again, they’re from the indispensable irishslang.org. Avail yourself at your own risk. I am not responsible for any destroyed relationships, furniture, or teeth.
So there’s your survival guide, from an official member of the Auld Sod’s Clan MacAodhagain. May your St. Patrick’s Day be a Bag o’ Swhag!