I couldn’t resist jumping into a heated newsroom discussion last week. One person argued against photographing Irish dancers because the photo would go in the paper after St. Patrick’s Day. That’s what got my Irish up.
I not so gently explained that Irish dancers work, perform and compete all year, that it’s not just something they do on St. Patrick’s Day, which by the way is nicknamed St. Paddy’s Day, not St. Patty’s Day. The tall guy argued that it would look pretty weird if a guy wore a leprechaun outfit any day but SPD, and I said, again not so gently, “People who engage in Irish culture don’t wear leprechaun outfits, and they don’t necessarily wear green.” The uninformed masses may think that Irish culture is celebrated only on March 17, but those proud inheritors of Gaelic culture often bearing names that start with Mc or O’ but just as often born with Polish names (like a friend) or English names (such as I) know that our Irish heritage informs our behavior and beliefs every day of the year.
It’s said that SPD is the one day that everyone is Irish. That’s true, and it’s a fun day to drink green beer and listen to pseudo-Irish Tin Pan Alley songs, if you go in for that sort of thing. Those songs are fun, and green beer is OK if you like a bland, mass-produced pale imitation of real beer, but Irish people are Irish every day of the year, they like traditional dance tunes, and they drink stout.
The most famous stout is Guinness, made in Dublin. I drank my first Guinness many years ago at Geisen Haus in North Canton. The establishment issued a beer card and punched it for each of 52 world beers I drank, and at the end I earned a handmade clay stein. I drank the Guinness because I had to, and it was awful. It tasted like molasses, and I guzzled it to get it over with, probably making faces like those made by the Little Rascals when forced to drink castor oil. (I’m glad the belief in castor oil had gone by the wayside by the time of my youth.) I didn’t drink Guinness again until I started playing Irish music when my interest in all things Celtic opened my mind to new experiences. I had been developing a taste for maltier and hoppier lagers and ales over the years, so I had worked up to Guinness, and I found that I liked it. It was rich and satisfying, just like the traditional dance tunes that I played while my pint of stout sat by my side.
Guinness was a common sight at a music gig recently. I played at the Hibernian Club in south Akron for its All Irish Day. The members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians are Irish Catholic, and I’ve never seen greater pride of ancestry. The kilted color guard bearing the Irish and United States banners marched to the stage between performances by members, and everyone, old, young, teenage, stood with reverence while first the Irish and then the American national anthems were sung. Those who drank that day drank cups of dark stout, and many did wear green, but just as many wore other colors.
It was a family gathering, where all ages mingled and no one had the American hang-up that alcohol and families don’t mix. The Hibernian club is a place similar to the traditional British Isles pub (pub being short for public house), where families and friends gather to share stories and camaraderie, parents drink stout and ale, musicians play, and kids dance and play games. These people are Irish every day of the year. Sure, they love and celebrate St. Paddy’s Day — they’re Irish-Catholic after all. But for them, being Irish is much more than a single day of parades and green beer. It is a pride of country, of an island they want to see united and free, and it is a strong sense of family and friendship descended from the tight-knit clan tradition of the Celts, those stubborn, independent, mystical original residents of the British Isles.
So get out there, tall guy, and take those photos, and quit harping about it being past St. Patrick’s Day.
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