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St. Patrick’s Day: From Galway to Boston

As March 17 approaches, I—along with many Bostonians of Irish descent—cannot help but feel prideful of my Irish heritage. My St. Patrick’s Day cards are purchased and signed, my green sweater folded and ready, and my parents’ Bailey’s (yes, I am 21 but with a limited budget) perched on a shelf, waiting with anticipation for the day of festivities.

I, too, wait but my emotions are bittersweet as I recall memories from this time last year, studying abroad in the Motherland herself: Ireland.

The night before the holiday last March, an American friend and I were at a pub in our host city, Galway, when we asked two Irish boys how we should celebrate. Their answer was to obey the “three P’s,” which to them, stood for “pint, pub, and parade”: “Ye have to go to the parade with a pint in hand, and make sure there’s a pub behind ye to go back fer more!” We followed their advice, and the rest, as you can imagine, was history.

But the night of St. Patrick’s Day, at least in cities like Dublin and Galway, is not a full picture of Irish culture. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Irish pubs were allowed to be open on the holiday, following the popularization of festivities in America through Irish immigrants. Even last year, we were surprised to find the pubs filled with families and young children during the day, probably coming from church. It was much later that the typically quaint cobblestone streets of Galway transformed into a “Zombieland” of stumbling drunks—a much more crowded and dangerous scene than any average night out in town would present.

It is Ireland’s daily pub culture, the stereotype that we exaggerate on St. Patrick’s Day, which gives the country its charm.

When I was living in Galway, a woman described pubs to me as “living rooms,” or warm places where the Irish escape from the dreary weather to meet with “family” they’ve never met. Looking back, her words remind me of my first night out in the city, during which I learned the “Irish way” of sitting down for a pint.

I will always remember stepping into the Quay’s pub that night—little did I know it would become a nightly ritual—and watching a group of Irish lads with thick brogue fight over a pint of Guinness. Each pointed fingers and cried, “You owe me a pint!” until it all was settled with an arm wrestling match. Even then, I wasn’t quite sure who won, but regardless, they bought my friends and me a round and invited us to sit with them.

I sat beside the boy who started the brawl, and it was then that I experienced my most meaningful drunken conversation with a stranger. He noticed the tattoo on my shoulder, and I explained how it’s an abstract version of the Celtic tree of life for a friend and my grandmother, who both died.

He responded, “I think that’s amazing that you have pride in yer grief. I’ve never felt I had that much of an impact on someone’s life to mark them on my body, but that’s the kind of person I’d like to be.”

To this day, I don’t remember his name but I will forever remember his words. Like this one, the Irish experience consists of brief encounters that reignite the soul. They are short-lived, leaving a trail of long-lasting memories. For me, these experiences, this place, and these faces, however varied, became home.

Another weekend, some girlfriends and I were watching live music at a pub in the tiny town of Doolin, when an old man from Belfast struck up a conversation with us about St. Patrick’s Day. The one time he celebrated in the States, he said, a friend took him to a strip club in New York. “The way that woman dressed, I had to cover me eyes. If we saw her on the streets in Ireland, we would’ve put a blanket on ‘er to cover her up!”

We all doubled over with laughter until we cried, silently understanding the truth in his words, and the cultural differences we’d be forced to readjust to upon our return. With nothing else left to say, we toasted each other “slainté” (“good health” in Gaelic), and swallowed the remainder of our pints.

Posted by on March 17, 2013. Filed under Around Campus,Around the Hub. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.