It’s easy to go green on St. Patrick’s Day
I know I’ve missed it by a day, but if there is any holiday worthy of a one day hangover, it’s St. Patrick’s Day.
With a bit of the luck of the Irish, you may have some leftover corned beef as we do, or maybe a few scraps of Irish soda bread. I’ve never managed to enjoy Guinness, but Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream? — well that’s another leprechaun’s tale altogether.
In my home state of Massachusetts, 20% of the population is of Irish descent. It used to be more. My little neighborhood was a mixture of Slavs, Poles and Italians, but the Flynns lived downstairs and the Murphys lived next door. Mrs. Murphy’s father, Mr. Duggan, lived in their converted basement. The Irish were the predominant ethnicity back then in most of eastern Massachusetts. The South Shore, between Boston and Cape Cod, is still known as the Irish Riviera.
My friends and classmates were Canavans and Callahans; Sullivans and Finnegans McNamaras and McCarthys; O’Neills and O’Connors. And I married Thomas Patrick O’Brien. In the Boston phonebook, there are pages of O’Briens, paragraphs of Thomas O’Briens, and a dozen Thomas P. O’Briens. My late husband’s name was so common, it might as well have been John Smith.
I was reared to believe that I was Scottish, English and a wee bit Dutch, in that order. But growing up, I wanted to be Irish. The neighborhood kids had me pretty well convinced that I was a complete outsider and I was DEFINITELY not going to heaven. I wanted to be in the “in” crowd. I knew all their songs and customs. Where was Ancestry.com when I needed them?
When I swabbed my mouth for the ancestry test, I was aware that there could be a surprise, but it was bigger — and better — than I expected.
For some reason, these tests separate the English from the Scots, Irish and Welsh.
My test came back 78% Scots/Irish, lumping them together. Think about it: They both wear those kilts, play the bagpipes and speak incoherent Gaelic.
The remainder was mostly Scandinavian with a trace of Italian and Turkish. Those little traces must go way back, probably to the Roman invasion of Britain. I have no idea what the Turks might have been up to. And the 18% Scandinavian? Well, Scotland is just a hop, skip and a splash across the North Sea, and it seems that the Dutch got rolled into the Swedes, Norwegians and Danes.
But Irish? Faith and begorrah, I was thrilled. When you carry a name like O’Brien for 50-plus years and you’re a Scottish Protestant — well, it gets complicated, especially in Boston. Not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day usually just means you’re not into the fun of the holiday. Not wearing green in South Boston on parade day is morally wrong. Wearing orange to show a Scot’s kinship with Northern Ireland could get you maimed or killed, depending on what time the pubs open. Young and foolish — and thinking it was funny — I did that once. I left very early.
But, hey, now that I have determined that I am a daughter of both craggy Scotland and grassy Ireland, I can wear the green with the rest of the proud Celts. I can now wish my Irish friends “Erin go Bragh” (Ireland forever) without guilt. I’m one of the clan from the “ould sod.”
Boston’s parade, sidelined again by COVID, is usually on the Sunday closest to the holiday. It’s very convenient because March 17 just happens to be Evacuation Day, a legal holiday in Boston and some surrounding towns, giving the celebrants two days to make merry. The holiday commemorates the day that the invading British evacuated Boston during the Revolutionary War.
Observing this anniversary just happens to free tens of thousands of celebrants to line the parade route one day and the interiors of the many Irish pubs along its path on a second day. This is not a coincidence, but a matter of a political agreement dating to 1901. My personal advice: do not call a customer service phone number in Boston on March 18th.
Today is recovery day in a lot of cities. The Chicago River is still green, as are the rivers of Charlotte, Indianapolis and San Antonio. Savannah also dyes its river, and during a long-ago March visit, I saw all their historic fountains splashing bright green waters. ‘Twas weird.
We couldn’t celebrate properly yesterday. How much fun can a “new” Irish person and a non-Irish person have without kindred spirits to laugh with? Our dinner, ending with a wee sip o’ the Baileys, was good.
Stay happy and sleep well.
“Toora, loora, loora … that’s an Irish lullaby.”
Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their paranoid Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org