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Scott P. Richert

The Lush of the Irish

By February 7, 2014

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So there I was, at a free (!) beer tasting at the Olympic Tavern in Rockford, Illinois, and all I could think about was poor old Saint Patrick.Saint Patrick in a detail from a bronze door on Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. (Photo © Scott P. Richert) I suppose it was inevitable; after all, the beer tasting was six weeks to the day before Saint Patrick's Day, and one of the beers the Olympic Tavern was serving was Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. As I sipped the exceedingly small sample of this extraordinary beer (there were only 20 cases of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout in all of Rockford, a city of 150,000 people), I started to wonder why the dear bishop, of whom there are no stories involving tippling, much less drunkenness, had become identified with a yearly festival of excess.

It would be politically incorrect, of course, to suggest that the exuberant imbibing that takes place on Saint Patrick's Day has anything to do with a certain propensity of the Irish for beer and whiskey. More importantly, I don't think that national traits are the determining factor in this case; after all, the French are quite fond of their wine, but they don't run through cases of it every year on the feast day of Saint Joan of Arc.

Rather, I suspect that the reason Saint Patrick's Day has been taken to heart by so many Catholics (and not just the Irish) is because it falls, every year, in the season of Lent. While the Lenten fast is no longer as strict as in centuries past, Saint Patrick's Day still provides an excuse for easing up on our Lenten discipline just a wee bit (or perhaps more than a wee bit). Even today, in dioceses with large numbers of Catholics of Irish descent, if Saint Patrick's Day falls on a Friday bishops routinely dispense the faithful from the obligation to abstain from meat, so that they can enjoy their corned beef—accompanied, of course, by a Guinness or three, and maybe a shot of whiskey.

In that sense, the popular celebration of Saint Patrick's Day is much like that of Mardi Gras. It may not be Catholic per se, but it has its roots in one of the oldest Catholic customs—the observance of Lent.

(Saint Patrick in a detail from a bronze door on Saint Patrick's Cathedral, New York City. Photo © Scott P. Richert)

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February 6, 2012 at 5:59 pm
(1) neil allen says:

Nice title, and pretty insulting, especially coming from a Catholic, the church best known for rampant child rape.

February 7, 2012 at 2:06 pm
(2) Cindy says:

I am insulted. I am Irish and I have never had a drink and none of my IRISH family are drinkers.

February 7, 2012 at 2:09 pm
(3) Huntgoddess says:

Scott, I hope you remove that first post. I don’t understand why anti-Catholic bigots can’t stop themselves from joining Catholic Internet groups.

February 7, 2012 at 2:12 pm
(4) Frank says:

To Neil; human weakness, and the influence of Satan are to blame. In spite of this, for me and hundreds of millions of the faithful, the Catholic church is best known for its unbroken lineage to my Lord Jesus Christ.

February 7, 2012 at 2:20 pm
(5) Scott P. Richert says:

Cindy, did you read the post? Or did you just react to the headline?

The entire point of the post is to suggest that the exuberant (and occasionally excessive) celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day has little or nothing to do with any propensities of the Irish, and much to do with the fact that Saint Patrick’s Day falls during Lent.

February 7, 2012 at 2:24 pm
(6) Scott P. Richert says:

Huntgoddess, I thought about removing Neil’s comment, but I generally prefer to allow people to hang themselves. As Frank has pointed out (and I’m sure others will as well), it’s simply ridiculous to say that the Catholic Church, after 2,000 years of history, is “best known” for a scandal that occupies a few decades at most, and concerned a very small number of priests worldwide.

February 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm
(7) Tom says:

Both Cindy & Frank have valid points. I for one have always been upset that our saints day has been turned into an excuse for drinking alcohol, and in particular the commertionisation by drink manufacturers in fostering a drink culture on the Irish people and the Irish dispora. I do like a drink in moderation and I wish that our saint was revered for what he was…a deeply holy man, who made so many sacrifices for the Irish people. St Patrick… bless us

February 7, 2012 at 8:18 pm
(8) Monica says:

Scott, you are doing a great job! I also am Irish and french. I thought the title was cute, almost endearing. I am sorry for those who persecute just for the fun of it. God Bless us… everyone! (and cheers on St.Patty’s day)

February 7, 2012 at 11:22 pm
(9) Larry says:

Many Irish had small potato plots -a small plot can feed a large number of people. Laws discriminated against the Irish Catholics. Small farms combined with big families left many boys with little hope of marrying –no land, no money. Prohibitions on education, language and Catholic practice did not help. As an outlet, the pubs became central to their social life. During the potato famine, many died and many migrated to the US/Canada, other places (some say 2.5 million). Once here, the amount of alcoholism was appalling. Large numbers of Irish Priests worked to educate the poor Irish children and teach them the faith. Irish were hated here, but the need for railroad workers and Civil War Soldiers helped many find a place in US society. The Irish who came before and after the Irish famine immigrants were better heeled and educated. Concerned with the number of Irish fathers who through drink and overwork were killing themselves spawned total abstinence clubs or total abstinence societies. Fr. Michael McGivney was involved in this movement and also established the Knights of Columbus to help the destitute families. No one has been able to chase the drink out of the Irish here especially on St. Patrick’s Day. But…, let’s not forget the beautiful man who was Saint Patrick. Actual St. Patrick history is very small, but the stories surrounding the great man sprang forth in great number many years after his death. His prayer/Breastplate has been used for many Catholic songs–reflects the great fear he must have felt at the hands of the pirates who had kidnapped him and the pagans who he went back to save as a Bishop. He asks Christ to surround him on all sides and protect him. It’s a wonderful unique desperate prayer that I love. Patrick was a modest man who accomplished great things by his courage. I doubt if he took much drink, but he could understand the desperation of his adopted countryman whom he loved and they have loved him back for hundreds of years.

February 5, 2013 at 2:56 pm
(10) lmr4524 says:

I enjoyed this post and think the idea of the secular observance of St. Patrick’s Day as a Lenten reprieve interesting. And I mean the SECULAR (non-Catholic, non-Irish) observance – municipalities and businesses invest thousands of dollars into parades, parties and green-dyed rivers, and thousands of people who haven’t a drop of Celt in them take part in the festivities. I think that it is also near the start of spring is a reason people of all flavors use it as an excuse to celebrate. As Irish Catholics, we might even be a little smug – how far we’ve come from being discriminated against on both counts, to the ould sod’s patron saint’s feast day becoming a mainstream celebration. Regardless of how we participate in or feel about these festivities, we can use this attention as an opportunity to positively communicate the real story of St. Patrick and his contribution to humanity.

February 7, 2014 at 11:47 pm
(11) Dave says:

No need for Irishmen to be insulted about a Catholic tradition. Most people celebrating St Patrick’s Day today do not have a clue who St PATRICK is. The beer guzzling tradition is put on by taverns and advertisers to bring in revenue during a slow time. March is more known for March Madness basketball than for Lent. Aren’t there some government “screwels” proposing to do away with St Patrick’s day in favor of some generic spring festival?

While we are on the subject, let’s ban the use of “Hail Mary” pass in desperate situations by announcers (except for Notre Dame and other Catholic universities). Replace it with the “Barack Obamster” pass…

February 8, 2014 at 1:14 pm
(12) Clara Schoppe says:

At first I didn’t get the title. I hadn’t heard the word lush used as a noun in years. I was thinking you were somehow referring to the color green, using it as an adjective to describe our beautiful lush hills in spring, but that didn’t make sense, because here in Vermont those hills are still white with snow.
If you think I must be a bit daft or slow-witted not to have gotten it sooner, just chalk it up to my being half-Irish.
I agree that St Patrick’s Day might give a respite from Lent to those who are actually observing Lent, and whose Bishops may dispense them, but we always had our corned beef and cabbage on the Sunday closest to the 17th (which will be the 16th this year), and continued with Lent to honor my Confirmation Patron’s Day, when I might wear a bit of green to show I’m Irish.
One year, when St Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday, I invited our Parochial Vicar to dinner to sample my old Irish grandmother’s lamb stew. I prepared the stew as usual, but in an effort to make it “more Irish” I added Guinness to the stew. It was the worst tasting stew I’d ever had, and gave us all diarrhea. The priest lived through it, though, and is now pastor of a parish the other side of the state. My kids all remember the day as “the time Mama poisoned the priest”.

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