On March 17, people of Irish descent or those who want to act Irish for one day gather to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday commemorating the death of the English-born patron saint of Ireland.
Traditional narrative holds that Patrick was kidnapped at age 16 from his native England. Patrick’s parents were likely Christians of Roman descent who lived in the British Isles as the Roman occupation was ending. Patrick was enslaved in Ireland for six years before escaping his captors and walking back to his home in Great Britain.
Patrick is credited with numerous legendary-though-mythological accomplishments. As a Catholic missionary returning to Ireland, he is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland; however, historical accounts substantiate that Christianity reached Ireland before Patrick’s return. Likely, Patrick participated in converting Irish pagans to Christianity.
Patrick is also credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland. For this reason alone, I have always found the thought of immigrating there attractive. Alas, Ireland was never inhabited by vipers. The island’s surrounding frigid waters saw to that.
Saint Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, giving Irish Christians a dispensation to break their Lenten fasts. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s day is a national holiday marked by parades, wearing of the green, feasting, hoisting a few pints of Guinness and perhaps throwing back a wee bit of Irish whiskey.
When Irish immigrants flooded American shores, they brought along their Irish customs, including celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. These immigrants are likely responsible for introducing us to the American staple dish of St. Patrick’s Day cuisine, corned beef and cabbage. The corn in this dish comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for "granule" or "pellet." In this instance, it refers to granules of salt used in preserving the beef.
Most early Irish immigrants were impoverished. They could afford only the cheapest cuts of beef, such as brisket, for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. They brined and tenderized these cheap beef cuts and boiled the heck out of them to serve alongside their cabbage.
In Ireland, it is less likely this American staple will appear on menus. The Irish are more likely to serve boiled Irish bacon alongside stewed cabbage and potatoes. Irish bacon is akin to what we know as Canadian bacon.
If planning a St Patrick’s Day feast, it is not imperative to serve corned beef and cabbage. One can easily pay homage to Patrick and Ireland by serving a nice beef or pork stew.
St. Patty’s Day drinks
The official St. Patrick’s Day libation for the Irish is beer or ale. Tyson’s Fine Wine and Things in Anniston has an excellent example of an Irish stout by Murphy’s brewed in Cork, Ireland.
If not into Irish beers or whiskies, regrettably commercial wine production in Ireland is virtually non-existent, although the Irish do have a wine-making heritage. It is just not on the Emerald Isle.
The British Isles lie in close proximity to the French wine-growing region of Bordeaux. Numerous enterprising Irish entrepreneurs became involved in the French wine trade, including the classified growth of Lynch Bages, founded by a descendant of the Lynch family of Galway, and Château Phélan Ségur, founded by Irishman Bernard Phelan in the 18th century.
Irishmen fleeing their country after the Battle of Kinsdale in the 17th century became known as Wild Geese. Those setting up wineries became known as the WineGeese. Today, winery owners around the world who trace their heritage to Ireland are known as WineGeese. Among the more notable American wineries with Irish ties are Chateau Montelena, Concannon, Flora Springs, Kenwood, Cakebread and Foley.
There are numerous wine choices for St. Patrick’s Day fare. Corned beef and cabbage is challenging. Riesling and pinot noir are often the fall-back recommendations for this dish. If less-traditional American Irish fare is offered, like a stew of beef, pork or lamb, a nice Bordeaux-style red blend from one of the WineGeese should fit the bill.
Contact Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org.