MY FAVORITE IRISH STORY (March 17/00)

“Fine day. St. Patrick’s Day and not as much as a drop of grog to celebrate it,” Edward Ross wrote over 160 years ago.

This entry from Ross’s 1837 diary is interesting in that it indicates Nova Scotians have been observing St. Patrick’s Day for quite a while. However, I have no idea why a Scot would celebrate an Irish saint’s birthday – unless the Ross surname is more Irish than I thought.

One can also draw another conclusion from Ross’s reference, in the same breath so to speak, to grog and St. Patrick’s Day. In North America people associate St. Patrick’s Day with having a drop or two, just as Edward Ross did in 1837. The typical Irishman is stereotyped as a heavy drinker and the sort who enjoys a boisterous night out on the town.

Recently I called a number of people with Irish surnames while preparing an article on St. Patrick’s Day for this newspaper. At least half the people I telephoned associated having a drink at the local pub with St. Patrick’s Day. A typical response when people were asked how they celebrated on March 17th was, “We don’t go out for a drink.”

Talking about St. Patrick’s Day and drinking reminds me of my favourite Irish story. The following tale, which is typical of Irish humour, was told to me by a gentleman from Belfast who emigrated to Canada in 1967.

The setting is Belfast. Michael’s brothers, Dennis and Tim, are emigrating to Canada. Before they leave, they extract a promise from Michael that when he goes to the local pub on Saturday night he will have a Guinness for each of them as sort of remembrance.

Michael kept his word. Every Saturday night at the pub he ordered three Guinness and sat there drinking one after the other. This goes on for quite a while until finally the barkeeper speaks up. “That’s not the way to drink Guinness, my lad,” the barkeeper says to Michael. “You’ll enjoy them more if you order one at a time and drink one at a time.”

“You don’t understand,” Michael replied. “I promised my brothers who are in Nova Scotia that I’d have a Guinness for each of them when I came in. The first one’s for me, the others are for Dennis and Tim.”

A couple of years pass. Then one Saturday night Michael goes into the pub, orders two Guinness and drinks them. Noticing the change in routine, the barkeeper offered condolences. “Sorry to see you’ve had a death in the family,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Michael asks.

“Well, I see you’ve only two Guinness. I assume one of your brothers in Canada has passed away.”

“No, no, my brothers are fine,” Michael said. “One Guinness is for Dennis, the other for Tim. I’ve given up drinking.”

“Why corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day,” I asked a Tipperary native who has been in Canada for nearly three decades.

“The cabbage because it’s a green vegetable, the Irish national colour,” I was told.

As for the corned beef with the cabbage, the Tipperary man told me that this was a North American recipe. “In Ireland it’s more likely to be a ham and cabbage dinner on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Since my great grandfather came over from Cork in the 19th century, and I’m proud of my Irish ancestry, I’ll be wearing a bit of green today and a pin proclaiming I’m full of blarney. A happy St. Patrick’s Day to all my readers.

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