As much as it’s become more an excuse to drink lots of Guinness and Jameson, Saint Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate one of the most worldly populations on Earth: the Irish. It’s also a time when a lot of post-diaspora Irish like to get unreasonably offended by the larger population’s admittedly tacky celebration of their now commercialized and culture.
Some of it’s justified, but so long as you’re being respectful and not making a total fool of yourself, go ahead have fun and have a few drinks in the name of merriment. There are a few things you should know before going out tonight, just so you don’t commit any major faux pas and make the best out of Saint Paddy’s day, ahem which is the first point that needs to be made:
1. It’s Saint Patrick’s Day or St. Paddy’s day and most definitely is not St. Patty’s Day. Paddy is the abbreviation of Pádraig, the Gaelic name for Saint Patrick. St. Patrick was a 5th century missionary who wound up in Ireland when he was enslaved as a teenager in Wales. He escaped and came back to spread the Christian faith to the largely pagan Irish population. Like most missionaries, he’s a somewhat contentious figure, but at this point he’s not worth getting offended about, unlike the next couple of points. Getting his name right is all that really counts, even Dublin Airport has made a point to let people know:
2. Don’t order a Black and Tan: A Black and Tan is a mixture of Guinness and a lighter, pale beer like Bass, Smithwicks (pronounced Smiddicks or Smiticks).
The Guinness, which actually lighter, floats to the top. They are delicious, so if you want to order one call it a Half and Half, because Black and Tan was the name used for the occupying British forces in Ireland throughout Irish War of Independence that took off right after WWI.
Like many occupying forces, they weren’t well-liked by the Irish population and were known for their particularly brutal practices, largely because many of them were irregulars and not nearly as professional as a regular army or even police force. Luckily, Ireland and England have largely put their troubled past behind them over the last 25 years, but mentioning the Black and Tans still isn’t appropriate. It’s akin to dressing up as a British Redcoat on the Fourth of July, but worse.
3. Don’t order an Irish Car Bomb: Irish Car Bombs are great drinks: you get a half a pint or so of Guinness and drop a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream and whiskey and guzzle it down as quickly as possible before the Bailey’s curdles. Great fun, terrible name. The nearly 100 year conflict between the English and Irish was marked by violence, tragedy and terrorism. One of the principle methods of Irish republicans wishing to drive the English off the Emerald Isle was the car bomb.
Irish radicals set them off in wherever there were British troops (and civilians) in Ireland and in England too. Often there was no warning and a ton of innocent Irish and English were killed. So it’s best to stay away from the Irish Car Bomb. As tempting as it may be, just order a shot of whiskey and a beer.
4. Shamrocks are actually not four leaf clovers. Four leaf clovers are a sign of luck because they’re rare: only one in 10,000 clover specimens has four leaves. Shamrocks are almost all three-leafed. The general consensus amongst the Irish is that a shamrock is Trifolium dubium or Trifolium repens, to a lesser extent. They’re an important part of Saint Patrick’s Day and Ireland as a whole because Saint Patrick used them to explain the idea of the Holy Trinity to the Irish pagans in the 5th century. They’ll be everywhere today, often held by leprechauns, which is a whole discussion in itself.
5. Don't say "top of the mornin' to ye!" or try to do an Irish stepdance. I know hearing those flutes and fiddles may tempt you to break out your best impression of Riverdance but you definitely just look ridiculous, and no one has said "top of the mornin' to ye!" since the Irish realized everyone was doing it in horrible Irish accents.
This all being said, go out and have fun. Eat some corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie and Guinness stew. Wear green (tactfully) and most importantly, have fun. And try not to puke green beer anywhere. Actually don’t drink green beer in the first place, that’s the last we’ll say about it.