In Boozo Veritas #33 by Teege Braune
St. Patrick’s Day
If you are the kind of person who celebrates holidays by listening to podcasts, you’ve no doubt already enjoyed The Drunken Odyssey’s drinking roundtable discussion recorded especially for St. Patrick’s Day.
Somewhere among the odd off topic asides and the sounds of clinking glasses I share an obscure poem written by Irish poet, scholar, and mystic W.B. Yeats entitled simply “The Irish Car Bomb.” Don’t ask me where I dug up this relic of misguided poetic innovation. I’m sure Yeats himself would have preferred it lost to posterity. It is admittedly not the poet’s best work: for one thing its rhythm and meter lack the near perfect precision for which Yeats’ is rightfully credited. Furthermore, the poem’s references are a hodgepodge of Irish culture and mythology with nothing of any discernible importance uniting them together in this particular poem. Careful readers of Yeats’ work will find it odd that he mentions Orlando, which at the time of his death in 1939 was still only a fledgling metropolis. Stranger still is that the poem is about a drink often deemed culturally insensitive to the Irish and their history of violent conflict between imperialist England and the IRA, but most perplexing is the fact that Irish car bombs were invented in the United States forty years after Yeats died. His prophetic foreknowledge of their future popularity can only be attributed to his involvement with the Hermetic Order of Golden Dawn and communion with Secret Chiefs.
Despite its spurious origins and cultural carelessness, the Irish car bomb is a favorite among binge drinkers on St. Patrick’s Day. We can at least acknowledge that its ingredients are Irish, though ninety percent of the Guinness consumed in the United States any day of the year is actually brewed in the company’s facility in Canada and not in its historic Dublin brewery. One could argue that the car bomb is actually a perfect symbol for St. Patrick’s Day in the United States: “Irish” ingredients created in the new world thrown together and chugged at one’s own peril with zero consideration for how they actually relate to the people one is supposedly celebrating. This is the way we appropriate any culture in this country, right? Taking bits and pieces from various stories and epochs, combining them without much thought or justification, blurring the lines between honoring another ethnicity and simply bastardizing it.
And yet I’ve enjoyed my fair share of car bombs, consumed them with a clear conscience, and probably will again.
This is the nature of a melting pot: one generation shares with its neighbors and progenies the pieces of the old country that it has brought with it across the ocean. These same neighbors and progenies remember the details but forget the old country, a place, after all, they have never seen, or if they have, visited only as a guest and a stranger. Like a cross generational game of telephone, they pass the half-remembered traditions up their family trees until they are as watered down as their own bloodlines. This isn’t a lament. This is simply the nature of America; the alternative, namely nationalism, is much darker indeed.
Neither is this an argument for unbridled cultural appropriation, the inevitability of which does not justify the creation of insulting portrayals of other ethnicities, nor the trivialization of their struggles. Unfortunately, racism is still a huge problem in this country and much of the world. Despite my occasional consumption of the beverage, the Irish car bomb is undoubtedly on the insensitive side of the cultural appropriation fence. There’s a great Irish proverb that goes, “It is often a person’s mouth that broke his nose.” The ignorant tourist who orders an Irish car bomb in any random pub in Dublin deserves the fat lip that he may receive instead. Why, then, drink it in the United States? Guinness, Bailey’s, and Jameson are surprisingly delicious when all gulped down all together, but is this justification enough? What if we simply changed the name? Were I taxed with renaming the car bomb, I might call it something like Fergus’ Folly or Finnegan’s Quake, but we all know that neither of these are likely to stick.
One finds references to St. Patrick’s Day lacking in Yeats’ work. In fact, the ideologies of the poet and the patron saint of Ireland, separated from each other by a gulf of centuries, stand in stark opposition to each other. While the latter made the rediscovery of Irish mythology and folklore his life’s work, the former spent his first years in Ireland, a land that was not his home, in slavery, and then after gaining his freedom only to voluntarily sacrifice it for a monastic life, created his legacy by converting pagans to Christianity, thus Romanizing Ireland and initiating the end of the age of myth. The primary miracle associated with St. Patrick is the legend that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. While it’s true that there are no snakes on the island, paleontological evidence suggests that they were never there to begin with. The snakes St. Patrick drove from the island symbolize the pagan gods whom Christianity associates with demons. Rediscovering these gods, breathing new life into them and reestablishing their significance was Yeats’ own mission, and thus its easy to imagine why St. Patrick was a not figure for whom he had much reverence.
Despite their differences, there are aspects of St. Patrick’s Day for both Yeats and the old monk to enjoy. The shamrock, for example, while appropriated by Christianity to represent the trinity, was also a sacred symbol of springtime and regeneration to the pagan Celts who came before. On the other hand, the adoration of leprechauns, about whom Yeats collected a host of folktales, would no doubt please the poet, while their ubiquitousness might have the saint rolling in his grave, and if that didn’t do it, the fact that his holiday serves as an out in out bacchanal for many would most likely not please him in the slightest. Of course, it is unlikely that your average American reveler is thinking much about how the plastic shamrock hanging on a beaded necklace around their neck is a bridge between Christianity and paganism while they are getting smashed chugging car bombs in some “Irish” pub most likely owned by Americans.
Last year while I was in Target with my own bonny lass, Jenny no less, on an errand unrelated to the holiday, a middle-aged woman ran up to me and began talking enthusiastically about how excited she was to meet a real leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps I was wearing green. Perhaps not, though I can safely say I sported a big, red beard. Nevertheless, I allowed her daughter, whose mortification was obvious, to take a picture of her mother and myself together while Jenn stood off to the side unable to control her laughter. What can I say? I am a person who aims to please. No sense, it seemed, in mentioning the fact that I am really only about twenty-five percent Irish, my lineage being mostly German. When people see my red beard, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, they often want me to be Irish, and I am usually quick to indulge them. If I meet a party-goer with more than one drink in them, I just claim to be 100% Irish. “Came to America when I was a wee lad,” I’ll tell any random drunk person. It reinforces some idea to them, not a religious principle or anything so sacred. Rather I become another component to the flimsy veneer of Irishness with which they have adorned themselves. Rubbing elbows with a real Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day becomes one more glorious detail in a night of blurry memories. If I, of all people, approve of them, then they must be doing St. Patrick’s Day right.
Personally, I love St. Patrick’s Day. I enjoy an excuse to dust off my collections of Yeats and Seamus Heaney, to play the music of Shane MacGowan and Ronnie Drew, and yes, get drunk on beer and whiskey. Perhaps my red beard is indicative of Irishness as my spiritual ancestry even if it only makes up a quarter of my blood. I’ll ignore the fact that the recessive ginger gene is a minority among the population of the emerald isle as it is everywhere else in the world. Perhaps my red beard is only an excuse to claim a cultural identity that is more romantic than my German lineage. In truth, I am really as American as everyone else pretending to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Sitting in the Drunken Monkey, writing about Irish car bombs while listening to French pop music and drinking Ethiopian coffee, I feel grateful to live in a time and a place where I can enjoy various bits and pieces of cultures all over the world, but I also know that their is privilege there too, that enjoying a song, a beer, or kind of coffee will never allow me to understand what its like to be anything other than an American. St. Patrick’s Day will never mean the same in America as it does in Ireland. Nor, for that matter, will it mean the same today as it did for the down-trodden Irish immigrants of a hundred years ago. We will never distill the experience of an entire people into a single day or idea. That being said, rather than deride those who wish to adorn themselves in green hats and beads and consume green beer, I would simply encourage you to have fun in whichever way you please, but while you do so remember that respect is always an important virtue in the United States, Ireland, and across the world.
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77, episode 90) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.