As I sit here writing this, I am being attacked by two Pugs, a Labrador, and my sinus infected boyfriend. So please forgive any missed spelling or grammar errors.
Big hint: if you’re looking for books on St. Patrick’s Day, don’t start looking the day before the event. They’ll all be checked out. There are a limited number of books written about St. Patrick’s Day. Most of them can be found in the juvenile section at your local library. If you’re looking for information on traditions like green beer and Irish potatoes, good luck to you. Believe me when I say there is precious little recorded history on these particular subjects.
It’s important to me that the information provided in this blog comes from both Internet and literary sources. This includes primary, secondary, and obvious myths that have no base in fact. However, for this post, almost everything was found on the Internet. I was a little disappointed that books were not a big help. I enjoy books and libraries. I like the smell. Can’t win ’em all, right?
First and foremost, let’s (briefly) talk about St. Patrick himself.
St. Pat was born in Ireland sometime during the second half of the 5th century. As a teenager he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and to get through the trying times he turned to religion. When he finally escaped 6 years later, he returned to spread the word of Christianity. The only date known for sure is March 17th, which we know as St. Patrick’s Day. It’s both a holy day as well as a day dedicated to drunken fun. It comes in the middle of Lent as a break and day of excess, possibly to avoid overindulging without the church’s’ permission.
Several legends have sprung from the story of St. Patrick, but there are two that are more widely known amongst the common folk. The first is that he rid Ireland of all snakes by forcing them into the sea after they interrupted a 40 day fast. (This isn’t true. There were never any snakes in Ireland. They aren’t native to the country and couldn’t have migrated there unless brought over by ships. Some believe “snakes” refers to the Druids). The other is that he explained the Holy Trinity by using a three-leaved clover, the Shamrock. Hence it’s symbolism. I’m sure somewhere in there is an explanation for the four leaf clover. Another time perhaps?
As I said, a brief talk about St. Patrick. Let’s move on to the admittedly lean meat of the matter.
First interesting fact about green beer: it’s just the cheapest, light beer a bar can find with green food coloring in it. Pubs jack up the prices in the spirit of celebration. Second interesting fact: the Irish back home don’t drink green beer. They get just as drunk, but they prefer a good Irish Stout. Who would want to ruin a perfectly good (non-light) beer?
You should know that the term “green beer” actually refers to beer that has not fully matured, and therefore is considered undrinkable. It causes “biliousness,” more commonly known as stomach upset and liver problems. Here’s one story that may connect green beer to St. Patrick’s Day:
A pub in Ireland was having a wildly good time on St. Patrick’s Day. Song and drink continued long into the night. Suddenly, the barkeep realized he had run out of matured, ready to drink beer. Such was the demand that he tapped into the pub’s store of “green beer” to serve to the patrons so they could continue their merry making.
I also found this on associatedcontent.com:
“Jerome Holst, songwriter, states the following lyrics about green beer. It’s the best reason I could find for green beer (though not the best for drinking it):
Now you may wonder how green beer
Got its fancy hue
Well once upon in Ireland
A leprechaun needed to
Relieve himself and so he pissed
Into a nearby stream
That just by chance was passing by
The local brewery…(magically delicious!)”
So there’s that.
The tradition of drinking dyed green beer began sometime in the 50’s, although there is a restaurant that claims to have “always” served green beer on St. Patrick’s, so who really knows. It may have become a tradition long before that. Part of the excitement of a green colored beer is not because it tastes better, but because it is something unexpected. It connects the drinker to Ireland, what with green traditionally being a color associated with Ireland.
Irish Potatoes Candy:
There are two types of potato candy. There’s Irish potatoes candy and there’s Irish potato candy. Irish potato candy is king of like a raspberry jam roll, but with potatoes. Here be a recipe.
That however, isn’t a traditional St. Patrick’s Day item here in the US. The one we eat here are Irish potatoes. Delicious little balls of creamed butter, sugar, vanilla, and (of course) coconut rolled in bitter cocoa powder and cinnamon. Yum.
There are many makers of Irish potatoes, but the original and first maker of the Irish potato is a Philadelphia (ok, fine, Linwood PA) company called Oh Ryan’s.
If you haven’t seen their boxes of 15 Irish potatoes in Walgreens, CVS, Acme, ummm just about any place that sells food, you might need glasses. The box claims to be the “Original” Irish potato, and it is. The Oh Ryan Company has been making these treats for over 100 years and anyone else who says they’re the originals is a liar! I was gonna post different pictures but I, uh…kinda ate them.
There you have it. As much information as I could possibly find on these two American St. Patrick’s Day traditions. Perhaps next year I’ll delve into the traditions of corned beef and cabbage, one of my favorite meals. Don’t judge.
Keep eating and asking, my friends.