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Thursday, March 11,2010

St. Patrick's Day gives new meaning to 'going green'

By Lauren Duncan

If there was ever a day for revelry, it’s St. Patrick’s Day. Many people drink too much, eat too much, and often end up doing both those things too early in the day. On top of that, a pinch looms imminent for anyone not wearing green. Despite the day’s taxing qualities, people — and not just Irish people — make merry on March 17.

“Everybody wants to be Irish on the day,” says Fergal Murray, master brewer of Guinness beer.

Food and drink are a crucial element to such gaiety. According to Colm O’Neill, owner of Boulder’s downtown Irish pub Conor O’Neill’s, the most widely sold dishes in his restaurant on St. Patrick’s Day are corned beef and cabbage, Reuben sandwiches and fish and chips. At Mike O’Shays in Longmont, similar dishes take monopoly on March 17, says general manager Todd Johnson: corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie and “bangers and mash” with Guinness gravy.

According to Murray, these dishes are so popular because they resonate well with pubs, which are the venue of choice for Americans on March 17.

O’Neill adds, “I think it’s more the perception.

It’s not as if that food would be eaten in Ireland [on St. Patrick’s Day].”

People associate certain foods with Ireland because historically they were eaten by Irish- Americans. According to documentaries on the History Channel’s website, the traditional Irish dish was boiled bacon and potatoes. But in the 19th century, Irishmen in America were some of the poorest immigrants and could not afford to eat meat every day. For special occasions, they placed brisket, a cheap cut of meat, in a salt brine to preserve it, and cooked it with cabbage, the cheapest available vegetable. This became a “special occasion” meal, and thus was eaten on St. Patrick’s Day.

O’Neill confirms that in the past, Irish people ate “the likes of stews and Reubens and cheaper types of meat.” But nowadays in Ireland, these foods have fallen by the wayside in mainstream culture.

“If I asked my son to eat a corned beef and cabbage — woo! It wouldn’t go down too good,” he says, laughing.

Having grown up in Ireland, O’Neill recalls minimal festivities on the St. Patrick’s Days of his childhood. It was a day when pubs were closed and people attended Mass. Indeed, the holiday has religious beginnings.

In 432 AD, a young boy set out to spread Christianity throughout Ireland, adopting the Christian name Patrick for his journey. One myth associated with St. Patrick’s Day says that Patrick drove all the snakes out of the country. According to the History Channel, this is likely a metaphor for his cleansing the country of paganism. It’s supposed that March 17 is the day Patrick died in 461 AD, and since then, the Irish have marked it as a holy day.

According to Murray, the holiday remains a family-oriented one in its country of origin.

“In Ireland, it’s more of a family affair, rather than a pub affair,” he says. But that’s not to say beer doesn’t play a significant role. Conveniently, St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent, and the feast of St. Patrick traditionally offered a one-day reprieve when Irishmen could drink a pint or two of beer during the season of abstinence.

“If you’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you should be celebrating with an Irish beer,” Murray says. “Have a pint of Guinness and think back to the homeland.”

In the United States, people hardly need to be convinced. Murray says that Guinness sales increase throughout the month of March in North America; normally 10 million glasses of beer are served each day, but this time of year sees approximately 13 million.

“Church is not on anyone’s mind [in the U.S.], that’s for sure,” O’Neill says. Johnson adds, “[In Ireland] they acknowledge the day, but they don’t take it to the ‘nth degree’ that Americans do.” O’Neill has noticed that in Dublin and other major Irish cities, St. Patrick’s Day festivities have increased in recent years, mainly for expectant tourists.

“People traveling to Ireland expect those things to be going on,” he says.

In Boulder, O’Neill makes sure local expectants are not disappointed. His 10-year-old restaurant is the host of an annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, which happens on the Sunday before March 17 (this year on March 14). The parade, which starts at 13th and Walnut and finishes at the Hotel Boulderado, includes bagpipers and other Irish icons. On the day itself, Conor O’Neills will open at 8 a.m. and will serve an Irish-themed menu all day long. Bagpipers and Irish dancers will offer traditional entertainment to round out the day’s celebration.

At Mike O’Shays, bagpipers will also pipe away, playing two sets in the afternoon between 4 and 6:30 p.m. The restaurant has celebrated St. Patrick’s Day since its inception 29 years ago.

Other local venues will host their own versions of St. Patrick’s Day merriment. The Hotel Boulderado will offer a buffet menu featuring buttered cabbage, corned beef brisket, boiled new potatoes and mint chocolate chip mousse for dessert. The dinner, which will be served from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., costs $17 per person and will be accompanied by live Irish music.

Baker St. Pub & Grill in Boulder will celebrate with green-tinted beer and live music beginning at 11 a.m., and the West End Tavern will have all-day food and drink specials, including $5 Guinness cans and $8 Lucky Leprechaun cocktails.

“The place to be on St. Patrick’s Day is in North America,” Murray says. “You throw a great party.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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