Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!
Susan here – it's a great day for celebrating the Irish and Ireland, which I’m celebrating too—one of my grandfathers was Irish, the son of an Irish minister from County Cork who came over with his family; and I have Irish on both maternal and paternal sides. According to my DNA tests and under-construction genealogy tree, I’m about 40% Irish, the rest Scottish, English, French, Italian and a smidge of Jewish way, way back. (If you haven’t done DNA testing, the results are fascinating and full of surprises.)
Today is a day for the Irish, a day for luck and pride and wearin’ o’ the green as we celebrate whatever percentage of Irish we have—and if it’s not in your blood, perhaps it’s in your heart and in your fondness for the incomparable, the irrepressible, the charming, the feisty, the poetic, the profound and unforgettable Irish and their beautiful land.
Beginning as a celebration of St. Patrick’s life, St. Patrick's Day has come a long way. Patrick was a 5th century British son of a noble house, enslaved and brought to Ireland; he escaped, yet returned once he became a priest, bringing Christianity to the pagan Celtic Irish. From that humble start grew the myth of clearing the snakes (pagan beliefs?) out of Ireland, and from there to wearing green, displaying shamrocks, drinking green beer, singing Irish songs in pubs, eating Irish fare, dyeing an entire river green (Chicago) and generally loving all things Irish or even remotely Irish for one fine day. And it has become, it seems, even a bigger deal here in America than in Ireland, with the Irish prime minister visiting the U.S. this week and talking about the importance of America to Irish immigrants–and the importance of Irish immigrants to America.
So today I’m wearing my green—including a favorite good-luck bracelet of Connemara marble and Irish silver—and it’s a perfect day for the Wenches to show our love of all things Irish, shared below.
And we hope you all will share your Irish favorites with us!
I've always assumed I was part Irish. My mother was left in an orphanage as an infant, but her birth certificate listed a McDonald as the father and the part of New York City used as an address was predominantly Irish immigrants at the time. The mother's family name was traditionally English, but the census bureau listed her home country as Ireland, so the chances were pretty high. But the real tell-tale signs were my mother's gorgeous red hair and freckles. I unfortunately did not get the red, although my children did. I recently had a DNA analysis done and lo and behold, I'm 48% Irish. I know my father's family, and they're definitely not from Ye Olde Sod, so my grandmother's traditional English name is meaningless. I am the direct descendant of Irish immigrants–which has to be my favorite Irish thing.
Mary Jo Putney
Several months ago I had my DNA analysis done and was told I'm 8% Irish. I have no knowledge of where those ancestors hang on the family tree, but I'm mostly all British Isles, which means Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and a dash of Scandinavian. Not that it matters–there is so much to love about Ireland even without Irish DNA!
Several years ago, we were lucky enough to spend a week touring Ireland with a driver/guide, and we loved the scenery, the history, the friendly people. The food was also very good–fresh and locavore.
Most of all, I loved the fish and chips. Crispy, fresh, and delicious. I ate them several times that week, but my favorite version was at a charming restaurant called Crackpots in Kinsale, a beautiful little town in the southeast. (I was doing some research for my book Sometimes a Rogue, which spends a fair amount of time in Ireland.)
The fish and chips were wonderful, the ambiance welcoming, and when we were checking into our B&B up the street, I met a single American traveler also checking in, so I invited her to join us for dinner. Maureen was a family practice lawyer fromCalifornia, and the three of us had a wonderful time.
Favorite things aren't always big and splashy–sometimes they are small and just right.
I'm about a quarter Irish and I simply and truly love Ireland. Shannon Airport was the very first place I set down in Europe on my very first trip there. I was seventeen. The favorite object I brought back from that long-ago trip was a hand-woven wool blanket.
We stopped in a little town and were talking to people at the pub. They told us about a place that made blankets — from soup to nuts as it were – by hand. So, off we go driving through the countryside (in the rain) and find it. Turns out it's a nunnery and they open up even though it's not one of the days they're open and the nice nun takes us all through the place. There were sheep. And,like, looms. For people to sit at. Man, they had a lotta blankets.
I bought one that looks like it might be a clan tartan. Tonight, fifty years later, I'll sleep with that same blanket on my bed.
I have a great fondness of Ireland and all things Irish, especially the hauntingly beautiful southwestern part of the country. Great golf, spectacular scenery, wonderful food . . . along with peat fires, whiskey and Guinness to warm the cockles after a rain. The town of Kenmare, renowned for its healing waters, is a particularly favorite spot, and I’ve been lucky enough to stay at Sheen Falls Lodge several times. It’s set on a small waterfall spilling into the bay and there is nothing more perfect than to sit back with a glass of local malt and savor the sight and sounds of a magical place. My family also has a strong connection to the country—my sister-in-law did her PhD (on Joyce!) in Dublin and my niece spent her junior year of college at University of Cork. At Christmas, my Guinness chocolate cake is in much demand!
Even with the Irish genes, I’ve not yet visited Ireland, though I will do that someday soon. I long to go there. My soul must be a Celtic one, as I’m so drawn to the cultures and history of Ireland, Scotland, and all places in the wide Celtic basket. And though I write books set in Scotland, I’ve always had a deep love and fascination for Ireland and Irishness. Here’s a list of a few of my favorite Irish things, in no particular order—and there are many more!
—The Book of Kells, ca. 800, Trinity College Library – a stunning illuminated book. Here’s what Thomas Cahill has to say about the Irish and books, in How the Irish Saved Civilization: (one of my personal favorite books, btw) –
Wherever they went the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies' heads. Where they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe. And that is how the Irish saved civilization.
—Irish pubs and fish and chips, including local lovely Irish places such as An Poitin Stil near Baltimore, where I sometimes meet Mary Jo to nosh on fish and chips and soda bread and more. While I’m not a fan of beer (sorry, ecchh), I do love the atmosphere of a good pub! See fish and chips from our beloved Stil above.
–A new favorite, the inflatable Irish pub – I’d love to have one of these in my backyard! https://inflatable.pub/
—Celtic jewelry – I have many pieces and love each one, silver spirals, knotwork designs, much of it Irish made and as lovely as it gets.
—TV and movies about Ireland — so many favorites! Here are just a few that capture a sense of Ireland and Irish: The Quiet Man, Waking Ned Devine, The Commitments, and a wonderful TV series, Moone Boy, starring the irrepressible Irish charmer, Chris O’Dowd.
—Riverdance! I have seen it three times onstage, and for years could not get enough of this phenomenal show and its extraordinary music and energy. Good news, it’s coming back for its 20th anniversary! http://riverdance.com/usa/
— And with the mention of Riverdance – my favorite music is surely Irish harp. I can listen to it endlessly, and even have a harp of my own, and have taken lessons to pluck away at a few tunes, and to better understand the harpists in some of my books.
—Trinity College Library, Dublin – I’ve never seen it, but must step inside one day. Its vast shelves and tiers are breathtaking.
This list could be endless, but I’ll end here – I know you all have your own favorite Irish things to add. What do you love best about Ireland—have you visited there or lived there? Are you of Irish descent, or a fan o’ the Irish?