Corned beef, cabbage and potatoes . . . the only thing Irish about the dish is the potatoes. Corned beef and cabbage is actually a Jewish meal. The Irish emigrants occupied many of the same apartment buildings as the Jewish emigrants when they migrated to America and when the Irish smelled it cooking they tried it, loved it, and adopted it as their own.
The other myth is drinking on St. Patrick’s. In Ireland the day is a celebration of Irish heritage and culture. There are parades, religious services and yes, there are gatherings at the pubs, but the objective is not to get drunk. Pubs are more family oriented in Ireland than in the U.S. Among countries Ireland ranks twenty first in the consumption of alcohol, which isn’t low, but it does mean there are twenty countries who consume more alcohol per capita per year, yet none of them are labeled for drinking as are the Irish. In the U.S. the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is to go to a bar and drink. It’s not just the Irish who are out for a good time. It is well known that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
My Dad was into all holidays and the example he set had a big influence on me. Like him, I tend to celebrate all holidays by doing something special. He would play Irish music all day and in the evening we would have that traditional favorite of corned beef and cabbage.
When we were kids there were, as there are today, many St. Patrick’s Day party favors. The one I remember most as a kid, and you don’t see them anymore, were small, white clay pipes. They were inexpensive and we liked to make believe they were real as we blew imaginary plumes of smoke into the air.
When I think of St. Patrick’s Day there is one person who stands out most in my memories, my late brother-in-law, Joe McGinnis. Joe was the consummate American Irishman. He belonged to and participated in all the Irish organizations and activities. He was the organizer and leader of the Bucks County (PA) St. Patrick’s Day parade and led his contingent in the Philadelphia parade. He had an Irish face with a wide grin, bright Irish eyes and wore a tux and a top hat. He made a grand parade marshal. More importantly, he was without question, the kindest most thoughtful person I ever met on this earth. When we moved into our first house he helped with the move and the next day he showed up with a pickup truck loaded with everything I needed to take care of the lawn, including a lawn mower. When the parade was over he would then make the rounds of all the watering holes in Levittown, where he never had to pay for a drink. He was applauded when he entered and left, and was called the Irish Godfather.
My son Michael who, owns a pub in Decatur, Georgia, and is a widely known figure in the city because of his work on numerous city activities and charities, and of course the popularity of the pub, led a small parade last year. He will lead the parade again this year and I predict it will double in size and become a noteworthy event. After the parade is over, our family members who are there will gather at the pub, listen to authentic Irish music, consume lamb stew or shepherd’s pie, and down a pint or two . . . most likely two.
For the past few years as a family we’ve also celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at my house. Everyone brings some food and drink, and there is a topic for the celebration. This year we had Irish pretzels (a new mythical Irish food) as an appetizer, tea and scones with jam and clotted cream (okay, I know it’s more British than Irish) for mid-afternoon, lamb stew and seafood chowder as entrées, and apple crumble cake for the adults dessert. The kids had chocolate chip mint and coke floats. The topic this year was Irish music and Irish stories. We played Irish tunes on the TV using you tube karaoke. Several family members shared their Irish stories and tall tales. It was a grand time. Thanks for stopping by and may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.