Tuesday, March 12, 2013

THE WEARIN’ O’ THE GREEN: Ten (Non-Alcoholic) Irish Things To Enjoy On St. Patrick’s Day by Pamela Sherwood

My earliest memories of St. Patrick’s Day involve pinches, usually from obnoxious little boys who were overly zealous about enforcing the penalty for not wearing green on March 17. Fortunately, my teacher at the time had those unaware of the custom make shamrocks of green construction paper, which afforded us some protection once we pinned them to our clothes!

Despite this inauspicious beginning, I’ve become increasingly fond of St. Patrick’s Day over the years.  Maybe it’s the green and gold decorations that seem to remind us that spring really is just around the corner. Maybe it’s the music that invariably sets my toes tapping or has me humming along, whether it’s skirling pipes, rumbling bodhrans, lilting fiddles, or thrumming harps. Maybe it’s the warm, inclusive spirit that declares that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it’s the green beer. Okay, maybe not the last, since I’ve never been much of a drinker.

St. Patrick with Shamrock, stained glass window at St. Benin's Church, Ireland, Photo by Andreas F. Borchert

So, in the spirit of the day, here are ten (non-alcoholic) things to put a spring in your step on March 17.

1. The Chieftains: ‘Nough said. These guys have become synonymous with Irish traditional music. Fifty years after their formation, despite numerous changes to their line-up (Paddy Moloney is the last original member still with the band), their sound is as exuberant and intoxicating as ever.

 2. Clannad: This band provided the soundtrack for the British TV series, Robin of Sherwood, which is how I first discovered their work. Their sound--a mix of folk, rock, and New Age--is haunting. harmonious, and uniquely their own. (Robin of Sherwood soundtrack album, right)

3. The In Death series: Highly addictive, especially for readers like me who love romantic suspense. But one of the main draws is Roarke, the Irish thief turned self-made billionaire, who is married to ace murder cop, Eve Dallas. Handsome, clever, and charismatic, Roarke frequently serves as a civilian consultant in Eve’s cases, but it’s his passion for and devotion to Eve herself that makes him such an appealing romantic lead. My favorite of the series so far is Portrait in Death, which sends Roarke on a quest to uncover the truth of his past, which ultimately leads him back to Ireland--and a family he never knew existed.

4. The Irish R. M.: Based on a series of short stories by Irish cousins Edith Œnone Somerville and Violet Martin Ross, this miniseries about a fish-out-of-water Englishman serving as a resident magistrate in Ireland and coping with the ways and eccentricities of his Irish neighbors is sheer fun. Peter Bowles plays the occasionally stuffy but decent to the bone Major Sinclair Yeates, Bryan Murray the raffish Flurry Knox, local master of foxhounds, who is both Sinclair’s closest friend and occasional nemesis. There are two delightful romances that unfold in the course of the series too, between Sinclair and his fiancée, Philippa, and Flurry and his cousin, Sally, whose aristocratic parents oppose their relationship. Fortunately, love and the luck of the Irish find a way.  (The episodes “O Love, O Fire!” and “The Aussolas Martin Cat” are especially strong).

5. Irish soda bread: Some of the supermarkets and local bakeries start carrying this in March.  Quality tends to vary, but a thick slice of raisin-studded soda bread, spread with sweet butter, is a delicious treat in the morning or afternoon--accompanied by a strong cup of tea, of course!

6. Gene Kelly: I could no more choose between Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly as Hollywood’s best male dancer than could Cyd Charisse, who partnered both of them. I love Astaire’s lightness and grace, and the way he compensates for his rather plain looks with class and charisma. I love Kelly’s smoothness and power, and the Irish charm/bravado that makes his characters simultaneously endearing and exasperating. He can make you want to kiss him or clout him within five minutes. “Singin’ in the Rain” (above) is my favorite of his films: he’s at the top of his game here as a dancer, singer, and leading man. Plus, as a bonus, you get to watch Donald O’Connor steal the show repeatedly with numbers like “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes.” Two great, dancing Irishmen for the price of one.

7. Riverdance: I’m leaving it up to individual taste to decide whether Michael Flatley or Colin Dunne makes a better lead in this show. Both are incredibly talented, and the Dublin and New York City productions breathtaking to watch: the music, the spectacle, the intricate footwork, the uncanny unison of the dancers--all of it!  I do have a slight personal preference for the New York production because the show’s concept seems more fully developed there.

8. U2: This band has been at the back of my consciousness since I was a teen, but I’ve become a convert to their music only in recent years, after watching the DVD of their concert at Red Rocks (right), held in 1983, before they became superstars. Something about their intense, hungry young faces, their raw determination to put on a damn good show for their audience in the face of freezing wind and rain, just got to me. Of course, their whole story has an almost legendary appeal: four Irish schoolboys--the drummer was only 14 and he’s the one who started it all by posting a note on a bulletin board--getting together to form a band just for fun. More than thirty-five years later, they’re still together, still speaking, and still making music.  A happy ending by any band’s standards!

 9. Oscar Wilde: Possibly the wittiest man Ireland ever produced: critic, poet, playwright, raconteur. His life may have ended tragically, but the humor, sparkle, and sheer fun of his various works all endure. His masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, is the ultimate drawing room comedy, and his fairy tales, such as “The Happy Prince” and “The Selfish Giant,”are exquisitely written and capable of packing an emotional wallop. (Photo of Wilde in happier times, left)

10. William Butler Yeats: If the Chieftains are the quintessential Irish band, and Wilde the quintessential Irish wit, Yeats is the quintessential Irish poet. Whether you prefer his early, more lyrical verse or his later, more experimental poems, his work is always vivid, evocative, musical, and thought-provoking. “The Cap and Bells” is a personal favorite of mine, which Yeats described as “the way to win a lady”--namely, by entrusting her not merely with one’s heart and soul but with the deepest, truest part of one’s self.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! Is there anything that gives you particular pleasure on March 17?


  1. I still remember my daughter falling in love with Gene Kelly after she saw Singing in the Rain. I didn't have the heart to tell her he was actually the same age as her great-grandfather!

  2. Oh, I vote for #9. Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite authors.

  3. Mia, Gene Kelly really is irresistible in "Singin' in the Rain"--age is no deterrent! :-)

    Shana, of all the witty remarks to have come out of the Victorian Age, Oscar Wilde was probably responsible for more than half of them.

  4. I went to Ireland last May and bought a green sweater, so I'm good to go! Everything was beautiful there. Loved it!

  5. I think writer and film-maker Cameron Crowe looks like Oscar Wilde reincarnated.

  6. Cheryl, I've been to England, but not Ireland, though of course I've seen photos. Beautifully green place--must be all that rain!

    Tamara, how interesting! I'll have to check out a photo of Cameron Crowe for comparison's sake.

  7. The Quiet Man, which I'm still trying to figure out how to kidnap into a Regency plot. Irish Chocolate Potato Cake is a close second, if you get the texture just right. The Song, "The Mountains of Morn," will always make me cry because I first heard it in a Swiss youth hostel, when I was thousands of miles from home too.... Great post.

  8. Wow! You put a lot of time into that post. Thanks, enjoyed it.

  9. Grace, I've never seen The Quiet Man in its entirety, but what I've seen I've liked, especially that epic donnybrook towards the end! It would certainly be a challenge to reimagine it as a Regency romance, but fun too. Irish chocolate potato cake sounds intriguing--and like a recipe that could turn out wonderfully right or horribly wrong. And a Swiss youth hostel? Irish trad music certainly gets around! And so many lovely tunes to choose from--my favorites include "Butterfly," "The Rights of Man," and "King of the Fairies."

    Amelia, glad you enjoyed the post! It wasn't so hard to write once I started seriously thinking about Irish things that made me happy.

  10. We always thought we were Irish on my father's side because of Oscar Wilde (my maiden name is Wilde), but then found that they were all German. Which I should have figured as he and his father's names were Walter! :) When people didn't know how to spell the name Wilde, my dad would say, "Like Oscar Wilde." Some put his name down as Oscar Wilde. Some looked clueless, not knowing who Oscar Wilde was, therefore the spelling wouldn't have helped!

  11. Terry, it would be intriguing to find out one's family was descended from Oscar Wilde! I have a friend who claims descent on the distaff side from Sir Walter Scott. (And as an erstwhile teacher, I'm a bit alarmed to hear that anyone would have trouble spelling "Wilde"--"wild" with an "e," is that really so difficult?) :-)