Thursday, March 15, 2012

St Patrick's Day Traditions and Memories

By GR Team Members Gerry, Paul, and Guy

Gerry: Several years ago I had the pleasure of being in New York City for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Three young single women. Lots of good looking guys in uniform.  It must have been a Saturday or Sunday; can’t imagine all three of us playing hooky from our jobs! No, not us! Have to admit that the parade itself wasn’t all that exciting, but of course, people watching IS.

Even better was hanging out at The Quiet Man Pub (now defunct) after the parade, surrounded by those men in their uniforms!

Paul: Ah St Patty’s Day, the wearing’ o’ the green and all those other great Irish traditions! Or are they?

The wearing of green is easy since St. Patrick was Catholic he would represent the green in the Gaelic tradition of Ireland. But what about this corned beef and cabbage thing?

Corn beef and cabbage is not a true Irish dish. It’s actually an Irish/American dish. In Ireland beef was very expensive and as a result scarce. Cows were valued for their dairy products and sheep for their wool and dairy items so the traditional meats were from animals that wouldn’t mean the family would lose anything if they were slaughtered, such as pigs and mutton (older tougher lamb).

On holidays the Irish traditionally have pork back or mutton neck with potato and maybe carrots and leek (green onions). When the great potato famine hit many Irish folks immigrated to the United States. Times were difficult; they adapted and made dishes as close as they home meals on the holidays. Corned beef (beef soaked in a heavy concentration of salt to preserve it) was the least expensive of meats available while cabbage was plentiful and easy to grow, so the newly arrived Irish/Americans became known for their “traditional” corned beef and cabbage dinners. However, in Ireland you’ll only find corned beef is in the more touristy areas.

Another Irish tradition is the Claddagh Ring, or Irish wedding ring. The legend begins with a fisherman from the village of Claddagh on the western shores of Ireland who was engaged to be wed. One day his fishing boat was captured by pirates he was sold into slavery in Africa. His new master put him to work in his jewelry factory and the fisherman became a master craftsman.

Years later the fisherman won his freedom. History isn’t clear on how but he made his way back to Ireland and found his fiancĂ© had waited all those years for him. He designed the now traditional Claddagh Ring for her and they were wed.

The ring features a heart with a crown being held by a pair of hands, the hands represent their friendship, the crown their loyalty and the heart of course their love!

The Claddagh ring, worn on the right hand with the heart facing out and the crown in, means the wearer is as free as the birds in the sky, however, with the heart facing in, the wearer is spoken for. When on the left with the heart facing in, the wearer is happily married forevermore; which is where I wear mine!

Guy: Although my lineage is mostly Scottish and English, I have no Irish strains that I'm aware of. More's the pity, because I love the culture, and of course the traditional music. I always have. And annually I make sure I have something green on, owing mostly to what I call "pinchaphobia."

In 1997 St. Patrick's Day was rolling around again. This was the year I lived alone in the three-bedroom family home that we'd purchased in 1968, and which I was trying to get sold. In the meantime I did a lot of my own cooking; only dining out infrequently. I was trying to save a buck here and there. So I spent a lot of time in the kitchen that year.

So I was thinking about how much I love corned beef, cabbage and potatoes. I thought; why not take a shot at that? I made a quick run to the nearest supermarket and purchased a head of cabbage, some spuds, and since I didn't really trust myself with a brisket, I opted for a can of corned beef. Although I haven't tried it since, it didn't come out too badly. It turned out to be a satisfying dinner. Although I could have done a jig in observance of the day, I didn't.

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