10 (Mostly) Sober Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Hacking the Holidays People Places

Dublin From The Guinness Storehouse. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsDublin From The Guinness Storehouse. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dublin From The Guinness Storehouse. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Tradition dictates that all those of us in Ireland go watch a parade and/or get appallingly drunk on Guinness (or Murphys, Smithwicks, Bulmers, O’Hara’s, Jameson…), but as I’m neither a big drinker nor a big parade watcher, it seemed only appropriate I offer a list of alternatives.

Read some Irish Myths and Legends
Even before we touch on Leprechauns, There’s a rich tradition of storytelling in Ireland from the seanachaí (traditional itinerant storytellers) up to Lady Gregory, a folklorist and friend of poet and playwright William Butler Yeats who compiled many of them into book form. My Guide Ireland has a great concise round-up of some of the more well known ones here, and there’s a beautifully written and illustrated kids’ book of the stories available here.

Watch some Father Ted
There’s a good portion of the population between the ages of 15 and 50 regard Father Ted as one of our greatest cultural achievements, but as far as I can ascertain it has never officially aired outside of Ireland, the UK and Scandinavia. Legend has it that it was pitched as ‘Seinfeld, but with priests’ and well, it’s just that. Three priests (one slightly corrupt, one a foulmouthed alcoholic and one unfathomably naïve) and their housekeeper, on a desolate island off the west coast of Ireland. 3 seasons and a Christmas special later, and you have one of the most often quoted sitcoms in this country. Here’s a quick snippet (embedding is disabled) from an episode, in which Father Ted (Dermot Morgan) is trying to teach alcoholic priest Father Jack (Frank Kelly) some more appropriate language for an impending visit by a bishop.

Maybe you had to be there. Some episodes do show up online (legitimately, too!) on 4OnDemand, but access may depend on your location. You can find the DVDs at Amazon.co.uk.

Learn the Cúpla Focail
Maybe a little sadly, the Irish language is spoken very little in Ireland these days. It’s still an official language, and is compulsory in state funded schools, however it’s regarded as the primary language for only 3% of the population, primarily in regions known as ‘Gaeltacht’ (say ‘Gayl-tokht’). Most of us do have one or two words – the phrase ‘Cúpla Focail’ (say ‘Coop-lah Fuk-ahl’) literally means ‘a few words’ – and will use them when we’re feeling patriotic, or have a few drinks in us, which if I’m being honest are frequently concurrent. The national anthem is also sung in Irish. The Irish Independent has a nice little starter guide to speaking Irish, but here’s a few to get you started.

Hello – Dia dhuit (Say ‘Dee-ah Ghwitch’)
NB – If some one says this to you, the response is ‘Dia is Muire Dhuit’ (Say ‘Dee-ah Iss Murreh Ghwitch’)
My name is John – John is ainm dom (Say ‘John iss ann-im dum’)
How are you? – Conas tá tú? (Say ‘Cunn-is taw too?’)
I’m fine – and you? – Tá mé go breá – agus tú féin? (Say ‘taw may go brah – og-us too fayn?’)
Please – le do thoil (Say ‘leh duh hull’)
Thank You – Go raibh maith agat (Say ‘guh rev mah a-gut’)
You’re Welcome – Tá Fáilte Romhat (Say ‘Taw Fawl-tchah Row-at’)

Fun fact – we have no words in Irish for ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ – ‘Sea’ (say ‘Shah’) or (less correctly) ‘Tá’ (say ‘Taw’) meaning ‘It is’ or Ní hea (Say ‘Nee ha’) or Níl (say ‘Neel’) meaning ‘it is not’ are frequently used. At least so far as I can remember from school.

Play some ‘Snake’
St. Patrick, we all grew up believing, cast the snakes out of Ireland. It was more likely the ice age that did it, but Patrick standing on a hill with staff outstretched, commanding anything without legs into the sea is a lovely image. Somehow it seems appropriate to mark it by playing Snake – the classic game beloved of anyone who’s bought a Nokia cellphone since 1997. It’s an Easter Egg in Terminal if you use a Mac, there are some paid and free versions for the iPod Touch and there are some good online versions that you can find easily, but I have to give special mention to this Linux version, simply because the guy programmed it in Python. My own snake-related celebrations will involve a bag of these.

Have some proper Irish food
Put down the Shamrock Shake for a minute and ask any Irishman what his favorite food is and nine times out of ten he’ll mention something his mother used to make – which says as much about the Irishman’s relationship with his mother as it does about cooking. We’re all putting on cosmopolitan airs these days – It’s almost surprising to see what the rest of the world considers ‘traditional Irish’ outside of tourist oriented restaurants (I actually saw an ad for ‘Traditional Irish Tapas’ this week). You can make the argument that Denis Leary was right – Irish Cuisine means ‘boil the <expletive> out of it’ – but that doesn’t mean it’s no good. If you’re sick of Irish Stew, Colcannon, Boxty and Corned Beef and Cabbage, then I recommend Coddle – a traditional Dublin dish in which sausages, rashers (thinly sliced back bacon) potatoes and onions are all boiled together. And yes, of course my mum’s is the best.

Rock out Irish Style
There’s a book for sale in Ireland called ‘Everyone Has a Bono Story’, and for most of the population it seems to be true. The dude’s everywhere. Just among my family and friends I can recall stories of serving him in restaurants and drive-thrus, running into him in bookstores and enjoying a pint next to him in the Baggot Inn. So let’s ignore him. If it’s traditional Irish you’re after, you can’t go wrong with the Pogues, The Dubliners (the late, great Ronnie Drew had one of the most distinctive voices in Irish Music) or the Chieftains, but if you’ve got something more contemporary in mind then I’d like you to Dublin band Bell X1. Here they are:

Get Animated!
You probably didn’t see The Secret of Kells. It’s a tiny little film. But it’s a gorgeous one. And it’s an Academy Award Nominee. Okay, so maybe it didn’t really have a hope against ‘Up’. And you might wonder what possible appeal a movie about ninth-century monks illuminating a manuscript could have. But it’s one of those great, sweet breathtaking little movies, hand-drawn but anything but traditional.

As an honorable mention, it doesn’t get much more Dublin than ‘Give Up Your Aul Sins’ – essentially a ‘found footage’ series of 1950s recordings of Inner City school children retelling bible stories (in that uniquely confused and hilarious way that kids have), with animation by the Oscar winning Brown Bag Films.

Read some Preacher
Really? Yes. Preacher. The seminal apocalyptic tale of fallen angels, vampires, shadowy organisations, people with buttocks for a face and well, a down and out Preacher, is the masterwork of Garth Ennis, a committed atheist from Northern Ireland. Not a fan? Not interested in becoming one? Ennis is also behind thriller The Boys and has written for The Punisher, Judge Dredd and the soon-to-be-a-movie Dan Dare (with Sam ‘that dude’s in everything these days’ Worthington in the title role).

Learn to pour a Guinness – then drink it.
Ah, a pint of the black stuff. My dirty little secret – I’m not really a fan of the drink, although I maintain that the smell of roasting hops from the brewery at St. James’ Gate is one of the top ten things about living in Dublin. Anyway, it’s a cultural institution, and you should, if you drink beer, have a proper one at least once in your life. According to Guinness themselves, the secret of a good pint is the double pour – three-quarters full, left to stand and then topped up, a process which should take 119.53 seconds. Wikipedia makes the claim that “some bartenders also draw a simple design, using the flow of Guinness from the head of the tap, such as a shamrock in the head during the slow pour,” but comedian Dara O’Briain has argued that if a bartender does that you should be legally allowed to stab him. Best not take the chance. A lot of Irishmen will tell you that you can’t get a proper pint overseas – there are a variety of reasons given from water quality to the competence of bar staff – so there’s really only one solution:

Come to Dublin!
Seriously – it’s lovely here. I spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about government incompetence, litter, poor infrastructure, the high cost of living et al while extolling the virtues of London and Chicago and Toronto, but the fact is that I love my city. Come in the summer, it’s pretty and clean and pleasantly warm, but not too warm, stay out of the touristy areas (but not the museums, you have to see our museums!) and have some Irish food, and Irish drink and and some traditional Irish music and have a bit of craic (fun). Look me up, you can buy me a pint. At least you’ll be sure it’s a good one.

Thanks to Twitter folk @billhilton and @johnjbarry, and fellow GeekParents Jenny Williams and Curtis Silver for the inspiration. Feel free to follow me on Twitter to hear more ill-advised and ill-informed rants about Dublin.

[This article was originally published on GeekDad on St. Patrick’s Day 2010.]

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