Lifting a pint to the patron saint of Ireland

Ah, ‘tis lucky to be Irish on St. Patty’s Day, lads and lassies.

Nowadays anyway. It wasn’t always the case.Clip art of St. Patrick's Day celebrants.

When the potato famine hit Ireland in the mid-19th century, penniless Irishmen and a few Irish lassies fled to a few eastern American cities to escape disease and hunger. But the New World treated the lads and lassies like the snakes that St. Patrick himself drove from the Emerald Isle. They became the scourge of America in gang-ridden ghettoes, forced to eat corned beef and cabbage because it was the cheapest staple available.

It would be decades before they shed their skins and reformed their rowdy ways to become police and firefighters and the very symbols of American heroism.

OK, so maybe they didn’t reform their rowdy ways. And that is why we still celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

In my humble opinion – and because it’s true – the two best American cities to celebrate the snake-charming patron saint of all that is intoxicating are Boston and New York.

Having descended from a full-blooded Irish-New York City maternal grandfather and a full-blooded Irish-New York City paternal grandmother, I learned quickly that no self-respecting Irishman drinks green beer, that all foods are either boiled or fried, and that boxing is an honorable way to settle a dispute.

We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day at the Knights of Columbus hall, which I always thought strange because even in the 1950s and ‘60s the Italians and the Irish were rivals who believed the other were the inferior.

After having my fill of New York I moved to California. California celebrates Spanish culture, not Irish. But it was better than Oklahoma City, where I happened to land on St. Patrick’s Day during my drive out west. I couldn’t find a bar that didn’t serve green beer on tap – or Guinness in a bottle. I nearly cried myself to sleep.

I spent the next 20 years drinking margaritas and learning that foods with spices in them are actually pretty good. I brought my new taste buds back east – along with the wife I had met in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day (I was dressed as a leprechaun) and our kids – and a few years later flew to Boston to meet up with a one of the few native Californians of Irish descent and a Floridian of Irish descent to celebrate the spirits of the day.

A few cautionary tales come from that trip. 1) Just because it’s warm in Florida in March doesn’t mean winter has left Boston. A light suit will not keep you warm. 2) No one leaves Boston pubs on St. Patrick’s Day until the barkeep shuts the lights. Once the lights flicker, there is a mad rush to the streets and taxis. If you’re not quick, you walk.

If you put 1 and 2 together and walk on a March night in Boston wearing a light suit, you will discover that 1 plus 2 really does equal 3. And 3 is winding up curled in the fetal position in some darkened doorway, shaking like a maraca in a mariachi band, and making a deal with your maker if He’ll – just this once – show mercy on your soul.

God did show mercy, a friendly policeman summoned us a ride, and we made it back to our hotel with a good story to tell.

Ah, the luck of the Irish.

Dress warm, but if you want the true Irish-American experience, you must put Boston on your itinerary. Boston received the highest percentage of Irish refugees during the 19th century. To get all cultural about the holiday, you’ll want to explore Boston’s Irish Heritage Trail with more than 70 historical sites of Irish significance. Or, take in the documentary An Immigrant’s Story at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau has a whole web page devoted to all things St. Patrick: cultural, dining and imbibing. Personally though, I’d avoid 75 Chestnut’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, as 75 Chestnut is advertising green beer. Might as well be in Oklahoma.

In New York City, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade bills itself as being “the oldest, biggest & best in the world.” Unlike St. Patty’s Day parades in other cities, including Boston, New York actually holds its St. Patrick’s Day Parade on St. Patrick’s Day, unless the saint’s day falls on a Sunday. Then the parade is on March 16. Most other cities hold their parades the weekend before. Of course, after the parade you can partake in a St. Patrick’s Pub Crawl, which I’ve been told by an Irish-American firefighter is a great way to cap off the parade.

However and wherever you celebrate: May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Alisha Semchuck on March 7, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    What a great read! What a great story! Loved it!



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