As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I face an identity crisis. My ancestor surnames include Morris and Campbell. I have always felt the very Irish “Morris” certified my right to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day (not to mention imbibing a bit of Irish whiskey in a cup of coffee), while the “Campbell” Scottish connection entitled me to wear the Clan Campbell plaid.
It turns out both names, Morris and Campbell, are common across the British Isles and not exclusive to Scotland or Ireland.
I have always considered my ethnicity Scotch-Irish, but research reveals the term Scotch-Irish is an Americanism rarely used in the British Isles. The term, if used at all in the British Isles, usually refers to 17th-century migrants who fled the Scottish lowlands and the northern border area of England to Ireland to escape constant warring between their respective countries.
A large contingency of lowland Scots migrated to Ulster in Ireland in 1606 under the auspices of James VI, King of Scots, who succeeded Elizabeth I of England. These immigrants dwelled for several generations in Ulster, practicing among other things whiskey-making.
The first wave of Irish immigrants to America came from this group.
It is debatable whether the first whiskey distilled from grain originated in Scotland (where it is spelled “whisky”) or in Ireland (where it is spelled “whiskey”).
There seems to be a consensus that Ireland was first to make a distillate from grain, when monks from the continent introduced whiskey-making about 600 AD.
St. Patrick’s Day brings out the Irish in all of us, even for those who are Irish for one day only. Drinking Irish whiskey may have a wee bit to do with it.
St. Patrick is the patron Saint of Ireland. St Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland, but Saint Patrick was not Irish. He was actually of early Christian Roman descent; his family lived in Great Britain at the end of the Roman Empire.
Patrick was captured by Irish raiders at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland, where for six years he was held captive, working as a shepherd in an isolated locale with little human contact. In this isolated setting he became very devout and dreamed of converting Irish pagans to Christianity.
He ultimately escaped his captors, walking hundreds of miles back to his birth place in Great Britain, where he embarked on a course of religious education lasting 15 years.
After his ordination, he was sent to Ireland as a missionary to convert pagans and to minister to a small number of Christians already in Ireland, which seems to refute the legend that he introduced Christianity to Ireland.
Patrick is also credited with driving the snakes from Ireland, but truth be told there were no snakes in Ireland to be driven out. But he did rid Ireland of pagan gods.
St. Patrick’s life is celebrated on March 17, the date of his death. The Irish build bonfires, have parades, go to mass and eat celebratory foods in honor of their patron saint.
In America, we mostly omit going to church, opting instead for donning the green and eating Irish foods like beef stew, shepherd’s pie, Irish soda bread and the very Americanized corned beef and cabbage.
We are also likely to drink a wee pour of Irish whiskey, preferably in Irish coffee, while conversing in a pitiable imitation of an Irish brogue.
Jameson Irish whiskey, the top-selling Irish whiskey in America, offers the following recipe for Irish coffee:
Make a sugar syrup by boiling over low heat equal amounts of water and a combination of two brown sugars: granular turbinado sugar of the type often seen in natural sugar packets at Starbucks, and regular boxed dark brown sugar. Allow the syrup to cool.
In a glass, mix two parts Irish whiskey, 4 ½ parts brewed espresso coffee and ½ part sugar syrup.
Float a dollop of whipped cream on top, and clink glasses with companions offering a hearty “Sláinte!” (slahn-che), Gaelic for good health.
Pat Kettles writes about wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.