Words of Wit & Wisdom
I’ll never forget my first Saint Patrick’s Day as a legally-drinking adult. A good friend lived just up the street from a small Irish Pub in Trenton, N.J., that played host to aging locals of Irish descent and an odd collection of the area’s punk rock kids. My friend and I became semi-regulars one summer, even accepted enough that the aging emigrants would chat with us in their rich accents.
When that first Saint Patrick’s Day rolled around, the bar was besieged and the live music was loud. The singer of the band had a pint in hand the whole time, and, during breaks between songs, he regaled the crowd with traditional Irish drinking toasts; some heartfelt, some hilarious, but all delivered with Guinness-fueled gusto.
The bearded, sweaty singer had the kind of voice that seems given most often to Irishmen, one that seems like its own musical instrument to be used to regale listeners with wry, sentimental humor. His first toast was an old classic that everyone knows.
“May your soul be in Heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re dead,” he said, and then he raised his half-full glass and emptied it in one swallow as the band began to play.
By the end of the next song, with the crowd getting more and more into it and swaying and stomping along, he had another half-full glass at the ready.
"Some Guinness was spilt on the barroom floor
When the pub was shut for the night.
When out of his hole crept a wee brown mouse
And stood in the pale moonlight.
He lapped up the frothy foam from the floor
Then back on his haunches he sat.
And all night long, you could hear the mouse roar,
Bring on the goddamn cat!"
The Irish regulars in the crowd joined in on the last line (the band was composed of regulars playing pub music), roaring its approval and raising full pint glasses (this was a bar where you could use real glasses on Saint Patrick’s Day). By now the routine was obvious, and as the band got ready to play another raucous classic, the singer raised his glass. If the previous toast was pure poetry, with the next, he showed his theological acumen.
“When we drink, we get drunk.
When we get drunk, we fall asleep.
When we fall asleep, we commit no sin.
When we commit no sin, we go to heaven.
So, let's all get drunk and go to heaven!”
By this logic, the whole crowd, myself included, was certainly pounding on Saint Peter’s gates on Saint Patrick’s Day.
A love ballad was introduced next, though I can’t recall whether the song was about love for a woman … or the love of Guinness.
“Here's to cheating, stealing, fighting and drinking.
If you cheat, cheat death.
If you steal, steal a woman's heart.
If you fight, fight for a brother.
If you drink, drink with me!!”
This Saint Patrick’s Day, I hope you’ll enjoy the age-old tradition of the Irish toast, always full of wit, wisdom, poetry and joy!
The Bushmills/Jameson Rivalry. Malarkey?
Around St. Patrick’s day, a debate surfaces that some people say dates to centuries past in Ireland, to the height of the bitter rivalry between the Protestant and Catholic factions that split the country. One could show support for one side or the other in one’s choice of one famous whiskey or another — Jameson for the Catholics and Bushmills for the Protestants.
Of course, it turns out that mentioning this debate to most residents of the Emerald Isle will elicit either a blank stare of confusion or a hearty laugh and a mild, “That’s for our American friends.” Even though Bushmills was originally distilled in Northern Ireland, and was licensed by England’s King James I in 1608, and Jameson was based in Cork County, a very Catholic part of an already very Catholic Country, the Irish themselves seem not to care a whit one way or the other.
The argument is mostly limited to Irish-American partisans, though I would advise against arguing this point against someone who firmly seems to believe it, particularly in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day!