Per custom, on the seventeenth of March, we will all celebrate being Irish, in fact or fiction, without having the least idea who these people are and what they stand for. We have profiled them as clannish caricatures; dull witted by drink and ready to quarrel mainly because they are immune to pain in that condition. They spend their hours in pubs achieving levels of romantic domestic misery unparalleled in other cultures. They’ll be the first to tell you that they’re trying to drown their self inflicted sorrows and that it takes hard work and dedication to do so.
That’s not them entirely. Poets, musicians, dancers, great lovers and redheads in general also come to mind. The reason why we all celebrate this Irish holiday is the fact that somewhere in all of our pasts lurks an Irish ancestor; the Irish are a democratic lot and fall in love (or at least lust) at the drop of a shamrock. The world is full of Irish; enough to impact many societies. It is said that ‘when you’re in love the whole world is Irish’, or is that Italian? Jewish? Cajun? Delusional?
A person who says “Kiss me: I’m Irish”, for some reason, expects to be kissed. That has never worked for me; although I also have a bit of the Irish blood in me, I’m not Irish enough. You can well imagine anyone’s response if I was to say “Kiss me: I’m delusional” or “Kiss me: I’m drunk, horny, far from home with clean underwear and/or walking a Labrador retriever”.
New Orleans will turn out for Saint Patrick’s Day drinking green beer and eating corn beef and cabbage, two things that no one from the Emerald Isle ever does. We will also celebrate with parades. There aren’t enough Irishmen to form a proper parade of their own so the Italians graciously agree to team up with them. You’ll know the Italians from the Irish because the Italians will be wearing buttons that say “Kiss Me: I’m Italian”. Go figure.
Saint Patrick, not to be confused with Pat O’Brien, was credited with driving nonexistent snakes from Ireland. Pat O’Brien is credited for getting people to see those same nonexistent snakes. Patrick is also credited with converting the country from Pagan to Catholic, which some say was not a really great move. The same is said about Pat except conversely.
Weird thing is that we celebrate Patrick’s day on the anniversary of his death, not his birth. Funny thing is that the seventeenth of March coincides with the Druid celebration called Ostara, a spring festival celebrating the rebirth of nature; does that sound fishy to you?
The Irish, in their homeland, have rain almost constantly; which is why the place is so green. They also have great national calamities that send them scattering to other climes and, starting with little, they rise like cream to become pub owners, politicians, poets, policemen and house painters. They land in droves, work when they can, drink when it suits them, fight like banshees and breed like, well… Irishmen.
We celebrate a great many saints’ days here but none other, that I know of, with the exception of our Saints football team, is primarily celebrated in drinking establishments. And, we don’t have a big Irish population here; although we do have a plethora of Irish pubs: Fahy’s; Kerry; Ryan’s; Parasols; Molly’s; McNulty’s; Finn McCool’s; Chart Room and Irish House to name a very few.
Not that we haven’t had a lot of Irish here. As part of New Orleans history (and here’s a fact), in the 1830s, rich New Orleanian businessmen used Irishmen (and Germans) to dig The New Basin Canal by hand; they died like dogs by the tens of thousands from Yellow Fever and were buried where they fell like so much landfill. They worked and died for a dollar a day and were used primarily because those same rich white folks valued their African slaves above that fate. (They tried that with the Italians also, but the Italians didn’t play that, moved instead across the river and grew crops, eventually monopolizing the city’s produce supply at the French Market.)
The Irish exemplify the stuff that life is made of, from the sailor at sea braving gale winds to the priest in the ghetto helping the crippled newsboy get a decent break; the cop walking the beat, keeping the peace; the friendly bartender that listens to a drunk’s woes; the old mother scrubbing floors to put her kid through college, the writer through a shot glass pouring out her heart to a public she may never see and that young man singing “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. Who’s to argue that the typical Irish wake includes dancing, drinking, fighting and groping? Being invited to an Irish wake is something to be approached with trepidation, humility and the knowledge that your stamina will be tested. Getting “in the bag,” so to speak, is no big deal; staying in the bag for extended periods of time is definitely Irish.
The fun of it is that nothing that I’ve just written would be offensive to an Irishman (or woman). The Irish are a fierce family of realists, who wear their hearts on their sleeves and search for some nebulous solace and comfort that continually eludes them; the luck of the Irish is nothing more than a consistent eleventh hour reprieve that follow them like a maudlin wraith and with which they cope with the most powerful antidotes that there are to any maddening malaise: humor; imagination; empathy and love.
And when all else fails, they hoist a pint to better times and drink to the ones who’ve gone before us.