St Patrick’s Day 101

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St. Patty’s Day Parade

Originally uploaded by presley

Not everyone’s lucky enough to be in Southie for the St Patrick’s day parade, it’s true. Which is a shame, because outside of Ireland, there are few areas more fiercely proud of their heritage and last names than my old neighborhood. This mural, painted onto the side of a liquor store two blocks from where I used to live, is pretty much par for the course.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate wherever you happen to find yourself tomorrow. Sure, you’re probably not lucky enough to be afflicted gifted with an apostrophe in your last name, as I am, but no matter: we’re an inclusive people, and would be happy to bring you up to speed.

Here’s what you rookies need to know about St Patrick’s Day:

What to Drink

Beer’s going to be easiest. Acceptable selections include: Guinness, Harp, Murphy’s Stout/Amber, or Smithwick’s. A couple of important points:

  • It’s pronounced SMIT-tick’s, not SMITH-wick’s. This drives me crazy.
  • When ordering half Guinness, half Harp, do NOT call it a Black & Tan, or you may end up having to apologize as Ben & Jerry’s did. The Black and Tans were a paramilitary organization known for attacking Irish civilians. Order a Half and Half instead.
  • Killian’s is NOT Irish; it’s made by the Coors company.
  • Oh yeah, and please do not drink green beer. Food coloring does not make Miller Lite “more Irish.”

If you feel compelled – either by nationalistic pride, peer pressure or a general lack of intelligence – to go for shots, Bushmills, Jameson or Powers are the usual Irish whiskeys consumed. Maybe Tullamore Dew, though that tastes like paint thinner as far as I remember.

See at least if they have something aged, like Jameson 1780 or – better – Bushmills 21; it may still taste rough, but it’ll go down much easier and hurt you (a lot) less later. There’s a reason I’ve regifted all of the bottles of regular Jameson I’ve been given over the years.

What to Eat

I have to explain this to people every year, but it’s good news so I don’t mind: corned beef and cabbage, which I personally think is a truly awful combination of items, is NOT a traditional Irish meal. If someone tries to convince you to eat this because it’s “Irish,” they’re either misinformed or trying to trick you. Either way, lose them.

If you want to go for the gusto and aim for traditional Irish fare, your best bet is some brown soda bread and a stew or thick soup. Otherwise, potato based dishes like boxty or colcannon are reasonably authentic because, well, we’ve always had a lot of potatoes.

Honestly, though, we tend to put a lot more thought into our drink then our food, so you might as well eat whatever’s at hand.

Where to Eat and Drink

I’ll answer this one with a question: are you living in a town that has more Irish pubs than schools and libraries combined, like Boston? Or a town whose idea of Irish is Killian’s and one of those Leprachaun signs bought in the middle aisle of a grocery store like Denver? If it’s the former, simply pick the most convenient Irish establishment to your home (try to avoid driving) and enjoy. If it’s the latter, you should have already spoken with – as I have – the staff at one of the few Irish establishments in question to determine what time you need to get there to get in. If you didn’t, well, what were you thinking? I mean, honestly.

When to Eat and Drink

Because St Patrick’s day is a bit more alcohol oriented than, say, Earth Day, it tends to be dominated – particularly later in the evening – with people unfamiliar with the effects of alcohol. If at all possible, I recommend conducting your celebrating as you would a surgical strike: get in early, before anyone suspects anything, and then get out before all hell breaks loose and every third person is being hoisted in a fireman’s carry.

What to Listen To While You’re Eating and Drinking

The following playlist has served me well for several years now (‘05, ‘06, and ‘07) so I don’t see why it won’t do you fine. If you’re light in the Irish music category in iTunes, eMusic has you covered: they’ve got everything you could want. Or, for a few grand, I’ll put my phone here on speaker and you can simply listen in to what I’m playing. Which will be something like this:


(as for artists, I recommend Makem and Clancy, but the Dubliners, Chieftains and others do very capable renditions of all of the tracks below)

  1. Gallant Forty-Twa
  2. Jug of Punch
  3. The Moonshiner
  4. The Bold Tenant Farmer
  5. Beer, Beer, Beer
  6. Water is Alright in Tay
  7. Drink it Up Men
  8. All for Me Grog
  9. The Wild Colonial Boy
  10. Whack for the Diddle
  11. Reilly’s Daughter
  12. The Jolly Tinker
  13. Red Haired Mary
  14. Finnegan’s Wake
  15. Johnny McAdoo
  16. Isn’t it Grand Boys
  17. Whiskey You’re the Devil
  18. Bog Down in the Valley
  19. Take Me up to Monto
  20. A Nation Once Again


  1. To Youth (My Sweet Roisin Dubh) – Flogging Molly
  2. Boys on the Docks – Dropkick Murphy’s
  3. Sea Shanty – The Pogues
  4. Nil na La – SOLAS
  5. Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon – Flogging Molly
  6. The Irish Rover – The Pogues
  7. Drops of Brandy – Finbar & Eddie Furey
  8. Caught in a Jar – Dropkick Murphy’s
  9. The Flowing Bowl – SOLAS
  10. Rebels of the Sacred Heart – Flogging Molly
  11. The Yellow Tinker – SOLAS
  12. Quart of Gin – The Prodigals
  13. I Ain’t Marching Anymore – 4 to the Bar
  14. Forever – Dropkick Murphy’s
  15. The Ol’ Beggars Bush – Flogging Molly

For those of you looking for extra credit, I highly, highly recommend Edward O’Connor‘s Irish History in Song series. It’s excellent, and I learn something new every year.

What to Wear While You’re Eating and Drinking

Something green, I think. Though apparently the answer was once blue, which I hadn’t known. To be honest, my attention to the dress aspect of St Patrick’s day is only slightly better than that I devote to dress generally. The only thing you absolutely cannot wear is orange. Particularly in Southie; just trust me on this one.

How Long To Eat and Drink

Have fun, enjoy yourself, but above all: do not drink and drive. Under any circumstances.

My thanks to presley for the CC licensed St Patrick’s Day Parade shot.


  1. I can’t believe that you left the Muppets’ rendition of “Danny Boy” off your list of what to listen to on St. Paddy’s Day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCbuRA_D3KU

  2. […] tecosystems » St Patrick’s Day 101 […]

  3. Lovely post! Appreciate the musical recomendations as well…always looking for more Irish and Irish-inspired music for my collection. How do you feel about the bands Dervish and Silly Wizard btw? So, on to the actual question I was going to ask…do you have a favourite Irish soda bread recipe? I love the stuff and thought I might make some tonight.

  4. Smid-icks or Smith-icks is also acceptable 😉
    Bacon and cabbage is reasonably authentic – but not your strips of typical breakfast bacon, larger and fatty. Yum!
    (who’s in the next timezone and suffering from the effects of the day – happy st.patrick’s sogrady!)

  5. I am in awe. Now I need to see your list of favorite Irish pubs in Greater Boston. Wow.

    Green beer is best consumed when wearing a green plastic bowler and looks awesome when it comes back up later on.

  6. @Sandy Kemsley: that is absolutely hilarious.

  7. @KitKat: thanks, glad you liked it. no soda bread recipes, sadly. always buy it.

  8. @Glynn Foster: you’re right, should have acknowledged the “d” pronounciation. and a belated happy st pat’s to you as well, sir 😉

  9. @David Churbuck: aw shucks. it was just a little st pat’s post 😉

    anyway, a list of my favorite Irish Pubs in Boston is an excellent idea. i might even need to revisit some of them for…research 😉

  10. “Isn’t it grand, boys?” is a personal favorite, though it lacks much in the way of Wikipedia linkability, so don’t expect it to show up in the series next year. 🙂

  11. Bushmills or Jamesons? Hmm, can you not get hold of Redbreast in the US?

  12. My understanding has always been (and Wikipedia confirms it) that a “Black and Tan” refers to a half Guinness/half Bass concoction, whereas the “Half and Half” refers to Guinness and Harp as you mention. The naming conflict with the paramilitary unit with the same nickname is unfortunate, but that does not change the fact that Guinness Bass is more delicious than Guinness Harp.

    So in British pubs I’ll stick with the Black and Tan, and in Irish pubs I’ll go with straight Guinness.

  13. @Rafe: it is true, generally, that a Half and Half refers to Guiness/Harp, but the better bartenders out there are aware of the unfortunate naming issue and will ask which version of the half and half you prefer, Bass or Guiness.

    on St Patrick’s Day, i’d advise Harp, but YMMV.

  14. On St Patrick’s day it has to be 100% Guinness.

  15. […] na Féile Pádraig!  Together with Steve’s excellent primer on celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we offer up the following selection of Irish/Celtic musicians and tunes needed to host your very […]

  16. God bless you with the “Half & Half” info. Nothing drives me more batty than bartenders, who should really know better, trying to tell me I’m wrong on that. Don’t even get me started on those who say that Guinness should be paired with Bass.

  17. When I was growing up & serving pints in a pub, “black & tan” or “half & half” were both acceptable. Althoughh in my neck of the woods, a pint of special (smithwicks with a guinness head) was more popular. In England a “Mickey Mouse” is a half of lager, half of bitter, if you’re into that sort of thing.

    For the whiskies, worth mentioning the luxury ones too – if you’re splashing out, Middleton’s Rare will set you back a fair bit, but Connemara, Kilbeggan, Redbreast & Green Spot are all a mighty whiskey. And you didn’t mention Bushmills either – Black Bush (Bushmills black label) or Bushmills 10yo are also worthy shots. And Power’s Gold Label is the best bang per buck you’ll get.

    Throw in a bit o’ the Saw Doctors too for the rural memorabilia of it all. And you forgot Thin Lizzy’s Whiskey in the Jar and Rory Gallagher too.

    All in all, good job, all the same.


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