I don’t get St. Patrick’s Day. At least, not the way we get on about it. I understand saints’ days, if you’re Catholic. I understand holidays, if St. Patrick’s Day still were one here. I understand that some of our province’s stock came from Ireland, long, long ago.
I just don’t get how that translates to “drink your face off, woooooo!”
Now, I have no problem with drinking one’s face off. I don’t even mind everyone in town drinking their faces off at once. But why bring Ireland into it? Or St. Patrick? St. Patrick, as a child, was captured from his home in Britain and brought to Ireland by slave traders. He eventually escaped, and legend has it that he returned to drive the snakes out of Ireland. Except there never were any snakes in Ireland. By “snakes,” they mean “pagans.” So St. Patrick converted the pagan Irish, who were, no doubt, happily going about their business like most colonized people were before they got colonized, and that’s why everybody wears big green foam hats and puts on fake Irish accents and gets shitfaced every March 17.
Never mind St. Patrick himself for a moment. Let’s look at this big green hat, sparkly shamrock earrings, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, ti-tiddly-tee-tum, pot o’gold, they’re-after-me-lucky-charms business for a second. Now, I haven’t been to Ireland, and I’m no expert, but I have met enough Irish people who are, you know, normal, to suggest that Ireland is not actually inhabited primarily by leprechauns. Or by drunks. Or by drunken leprechauns. “Celebrating” Irishness by painting some shamrocks on your cheeks and upending a series of barstools while listening to frantic tin whistle music before vomiting greenly onto your date’s “My Goodness, My Guinness” T-shirt is not terribly respectful of Ireland as a nation, or of Irish people, is it?
Here’s the thing: every time we Newfoundlanders see an image of a toothless, Cape-Ann-wearing, illiterate, rum-swilling, accordion-playing, seal-clubbing, Newfie-joke-inspiring fisherman as a “celebration” of our culture, we get righteously angry about it. We write letters and boycott products. We go on national programs to speak articulately about our industrial edge, our cultural and artistic achievements, our boutique hotels, our ecological attractions, our ever-changing urban demographic.
And yet, we’re not ashamed to portray Ireland and its people in an equally ignorant fashion for 24 hours (plus hangover lag time) every March. We’ll go so far as to say it’s okay because “we’re Irish.” Well, actually, most of us aren’t Irish, and many of those of us who are (in an ancestral sense) haven’t been Irish (in a practical sense) in a long time.
“I’m sorry,” you may be saying, “your mad rant is very interesting, but what does this have to do with food?” Well, food is an expression of culture, isn’t it? Ireland’s history of food culture is complicated and political; it was the great famine (which was, let’s remember, starvation at the hands of colonial landlords) that resulted in much of the migration of Irish people to North America. The potato isn’t indigenous to Ireland; it is a South American plant, which was introduced to Ireland as a supplementary crop, but which was manipulated into becoming a staple. When the potato blight hit in the 1840s, the Irish people had no other food to turn to (most other crops having been claimed for export to England), and so a great many Irish people came to the Americas to give it a go here. Those immigrants formed communities, integrated into the cities and towns, and that’s why we began to recognize St. Patrick’s Day in the first place.
Surely I’m not the only person who finds this interesting. Surely! Come on, people!
What I’m getting at here, if you’ll indulge me, is this: if you wish to celebrate Irish history—and why wouldn’t you?—how about instead of turning it into a stereotype-fuelled piss-up, why not take some time to honour the Irish experience by thinking about what happens when communities lose the means to grow food for themselves? And while you’re at it, why not raise a glass to the indomitable spirit of Ireland, and of people everywhere who have survived devastating cultural losses. As for St. Patrick and his story, well, I myself side with the snakes.
Irish food tastes and Newfoundland ones run along similar lines – our ancestry and climate have much to do with that. Contemporary Irish cuisine (as hip and cool as contemporary cuisine anywhere) combines traditional ingredients like root vegetables, cabbage, potatoes, game, salt meat, and lamb with newer techniques to create dishes that are at once simple and elegant. Kinda like we do here, hey?
Although Ireland is an island, seafood has only played a large role in cooking in certain areas. Modern Irish cooks are taking better and better advantage of local seafood, and salmon, mussels, scallops, lobster and the like appear frequently on restaurant menus.
Irish beer and whiskey are, of course, famous (and for very good reason). Why not try steaming mussels in a mixture of Guinness and half-and-half, with some onion thrown in there, and some appropriately green parsley? Or how about lamb chops brushed with a mixture of honey, whiskey, garlic, and marmalade? There are plenty of sources for contemporary Irish recipes on the web; I found some good-looking ones online at www.tinyurl.com/cb3lbg
Of course, you would always defer to James Joyce on this one, and dine on organ meats in the style of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce’s Ulysses:
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
If you’re into that sort of thing.