The usual party mood has been rudely interrupted by the corona virus, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some Irish fun anyway.
Normally the originally-Irish-turned-commercial St. Patrick’s Day is synonymous with too much alcohol, lots of green and Irish songs, but this year is quite different. With half of the world in quarantine or gearing up for it due to the novel corona virus outbreak, the traditional St. Patrick’s parades have been cancelled and the mood turned from festive to rather downtrodden.
Drinking celebrating alone at home in self-isolation is depressive, right? Wrong (and I’m guessing most of Ireland agrees with me).
Since any excuse for a party is a good thing and we love Irish music, my friends and I would normally go out to an Irish pub for St. Patrick’s (last year I celebrated it in Finland), but this year my boyfriend and I were responsibly stuck at home to help flatten the curve of the virus spread. We ended up celebrating on our own with whiskey, a movie and a Guinness cake (recipe here).
St. Patrick’s Day 2020
If St. Patrick’s Day is not a big thing in your country (it isn’t in most countries, for example my Slovenia), you might be asking yourself who even was St. Patrick and why are the Irish and (supposedly) Irish Americans so crazy for him?
St. Patrick: facts and fiction
Well, St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the 17th of March commemorates the day of his death. Contrary to what you might imagine, St. Patrick was not Irish – he was born in Roman-occupied Britain at the end of the 4th century and kidnapped by Irish raiders when he was 16. He spent 6 years alone as a slave shepherd somewhere in the west of today’s Ireland and became deeply devout during that time. After 6 years he supposedly heard the voice of God telling him to escape Ireland, so he up and walked about 300 km (200 miles) to the coast and returned to Britain. Upon returning home, he had a vision of an angel telling him to become a missionary in Ireland, which lit a fire under him and he became a priest.
Back in the 5th century, Christianity was still not a big thing in Ireland (although there were already some Irish Christians) and St. Patrick’s sole personal goal was to make it THE thing. He largely succeeded in converting the majority of Ireland by incorporating the native Irish traditions into Christianity, such as marrying the Beltane bonfires with Easter celebration etc.. He is also credited with creating the well-known Celtic cross (a mix of the Christian cross and the Pagan symbol of the Sun) to give the Celts something more familiar to worship.
Since the native Celtic culture was largely based on the oral keeping of history composed of fantastical stories, St. Patrick soon became a figure shrouded in myth. Many of the common beliefs and legends about him are just that, legends. He didn’t banish all snakes from Ireland, because there have never been any snakes in Ireland. The emerald isle has been surrounded by water since the Ice Ages and so reptiles were rather disinclined to cross the cold ice expanse – the whole snake thing was a metaphor for rooting out Pagan beliefs instead. His personal colour was also not green, but rather blue, as worn by his chivalry order. The green came later in the 18th century with the cause for Irish independence who used green as their colour and the shamrock as their national symbol. However, the shamrock thing is pretty legit: the Celts considered it a sacred plant called seamroy and St. Patrick supposedly used it to visually explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Also, the Irish leprechauns are actually a type of Fae.
Additionally, St. Patrick is not even a real saint. Because he was such an early Christian historical figure, he was never officially canonized, as that was simply not done at the time. He became known as a saint through popular opinion and the misconception just stuck. Similarly, the St. Patrick’s Day parades aren’t really an Irish thing. The first parade was held in the U.S. in the 18th century by the numerous Irish immigrants, who were often discriminated against. Thus St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish religious holiday, evolved into a secular celebration of the Irish culture and a way for the Irish in the U.S. to come together. Eventually it also became a green day of music and drinking in Ireland, and gradually made its way into other countries in the form of celebrating everything superficially Irish as well.
As you might expect, there are tons of monuments and sites associated with St. Patrick and his life in Ireland. Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain atop which St. Patrick supposedly fasted for 40 days, is perhaps one of the more distinct ones, which attracts thousands of pilgrims every year (some of them even climb it barefoot in honour of their beloved saint). A younger me climbed it in bad shoes in 2014 when I was visiting my friends in Westport and I can tell you that the view is absolutely fantastic! The mountain overlooks Clew Bay with its many islands (365 according to tradition) and the view is pretty good even on a foggy day. (Ireland in general is absolutely fantastic as well, particularly when staying with locals or experiencing it during off-season: check out this guide on how you can have the whole Ireland to yourself if you choose your travel time wisely.)
So, if you’re currently stuck indoors or didn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day when the party was on (even a day later counts, right?), here are some ideas for adding a bit of an Irish vibe into your life, because trust me, you need it:
- Drinks: everyone knows the Irish are big on drinking, so have a pint of beer (preferably Guinness or any other Irish brand) or a drop of whiskey. If alcohol is not your thing, a cup of old school Irish breakfast tea with milk is awesome too!
- Food: although Americans eat corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s day, most Irish would rather die than eat that, so here’s a couple of proper Irish food ideas to try instead: beef and Guinness stew, Irish breakfast fry-up or a roast dinner. One of my favourite Irish dishes is also the seafood chowder.
- Music: there are tons of amazing (and really singable) Irish traditional songs, so go crazy and explore YouTube! I suggest starting with the classics, such as the Dubliners, the High Kings, Luke Kelly etc. (my favourite is probably the Black Velvet Band)
- Movies: if you’re into history, the BBC’s Story of Ireland is an awesome documentary about the history of the emerald isle. On a lighter note, the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea are two gorgeous Irish-themed animated movies.
- Books: here’s a pretty good starting list of classics to read to get a feel for Ireland.
- Dancing: if you’re feeling really active and dedicated, you could also try to learn some Irish dancing (here’s a tutorial video).