St. Patrick’s Day. One of my favorite holidays. When I was a kid, my parents would make corned beef and cabbage. I hated it. It wasn’t until years later that I appreciated its delicious goodness. Every St. Patrick’s Day, my father would put his Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Live at Carnegie Hall record on heavy rotation. To this day, it is one of my favorites.
St. Patrick’s Day is a cultural institution in Chicago. They dye the Chicago River neon green. The South Side Parade is a fixture. And if you ever get the chance to go to Chief O’Neills Pub, it’s packed to the gills and the Trinity Irish Dancers make several appearances and Elevation, the U2 cover band closes the night.
During my high school and college years, we lived down the block from the Irish American Heritage Center, which meant during St. Patrick’s Day, the neighborhood was buzzing with bagpipes and drums. The neighborhood, Mayfair Park, was very Irish Catholic too and several families were composed of fireman and cops, some second and third generation – Kelly, Bresnahan and Coughlin.
Years ago, I had a breather between corporate gigs and decided to travel and use my then brand new passport to visit London, Scotland and Ireland for two weeks. I enjoyed London and Scotland, but absolutely loved Ireland. It’s called the Emerald Isle for a reason – the shades of green grass are unlike any other. I stayed in Cork, Dingle, Galway and eventually made my way to Dublin to fly back home to Chicago.
In Cork, I met Finbar and Sean. I was watching the World Cup while enjoying a Murphy’s Irish Stout when those two knuckleheads came up and asked me where I was from. After replying “Chicago,” they said, “You’re partying with us. Cork won the hurling championship!” I took them up on their offer and had a great time.
I also saw a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at a park/playground in Cork. The audience stood around a pool as the actors moved around the space. I happened to be standing near a corner of the pool where a family of tiny ducks gathered to sleep for the evening. As the actors would near the corner, the ducks would stand up and waddle over to the pool to find safety and security in the water. They’d paddle around quacking until the actors left. Then they would pop out of the pool, shake the water off and huddle together for sleep. Inevitably, the actors would return and the process would repeat.
In Dingle, I rode around the peninsula on a bike I rented from a hardware store. I saw sheep cross the road from one pen to another. It was 75 and sunny with a light breeze. It was one of the most peaceful days of my adult life. I also had to stop about halfway through the bike ride because I wasn’t in bike riding shape. There was a brief period of time where I thought I might not make it back to the town proper. That evening, I went to a local watering hole and saw a three piece band play traditional Irish songs. A woman lead the band in a couple songs. And at one point, a large, early 40’s man with a beer belly engaged her in some Irish step dancing. It was lovely. And magical.
In Galway, I went to an open mic night with some folks from my hostel. I vividly recall a woman singing Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees. Mesmerizing. I also remember a white gentlemen who resembled a young Val Kilmer calling himself White Chocolate and singing an 80’s tune. George Michael or WHAM if I recall correctly.
I arrived in Dublin six hours later than I originally intended. I forgot my passport and credentials in my pillow, so two hours into my trip from Galway to Dublin, I had to hop on a bus back to Galway, walk back to the hostel, grab my info and then head back to the terminal to get on a bus. By the time I got to Dublin, I just wanted to eat and sleep. I had the best fish and chips I’ve ever had in my life and a Guinness to wash it down and called it a night.
Ireland holds a special place in my heart and St. Patrick’s Day is a warm reminder of those days. I love Irish music. I love St. Patrick’s Day. I loathe Notre Dame.
Later today, you can find me at Ye Rustic Inn enjoying some corned beef and cabbage. Until then, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem will be on heavy rotation. Enjoy this St. Patrick’s Day. Slainte!