Patrick Dewane is an author, performer and arts fundraiser.
I'll let you in on a secret about St. Patrick's Day — St. Patrick wasn't Irish. He was a Roman living in Britain. He didn't really drive the snakes off the island, but he did make Ireland his adopted home. So when they say that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, I guess that would extend even to St. Patrick himself.
My name is Patrick, and unlike St. Patrick I am Irish. But for much of my life St. Patrick's Day has been confusing, even embarrassing. When I was a kid, my very Irish father would make us all wear fuzzy shamrocks to Catholic school, while he went to work sporting a green derby hat and a shiny green polyester tie. St. Patrick's Day was his favorite holiday for reasons I never fully understood. He'd play his Irish Rovers records and recount the misdeeds of the English.
And if anyone dared ask him why we wore funny green clothing and accessories on St. Patrick's Day, Dad would fire back a clipped: "It's what we do."
When I moved to New York, I noticed that the Irish are the only ethnic group that spends its day on the calendar living up to its worst stereotypes. In New York I avoided the parade down Fifth Avenue, but there was no escaping the drunken fistfights and vomiting on Manhattan cross streets every March 17.
Back then I'd wear black, not green, and sniff to my artsy friends that St. Patrick's Day was the only day of the year I wasn't Irish. The writer Frank McCourt showed a bit more humor about the situation with his quip that one well-placed bomb at the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade would wipe out the cream of the crop of Irish mediocrity. For a while I had a roommate from Ireland, and he declared the Irish New Yorkers to be mad and daft, as back in Dublin St. Patrick's Day was when you went to the church, not the bars.
St. Patrick was an outsider who fell for the charms of the Irish, much as my Czech mother fell for the charms of my father. Mom considers herself Irish on St. Patrick's Day — Irish by contamination is how she puts it. Before my dad died, the two of them threw a big bash every year on St. Patty's, inviting dozens of non-Irish friends who'd gladly wear funny green hats, eat corned beef and cabbage and listen to Dad's Irish Rovers records. So go ahead and be Irish yourself today, order a Guinness and dance to the Dropkick Murphys. It's sort of like getting a day sticker for a state park. You can have the fun without the obligation of becoming a full member.
I'll be at the church, not the bar. But I won't be wearing black anymore, I'll be in green, something probably a little more subtle than a Kelly green derby or a button saying, "Kiss me I'm Irish." But go ahead and kiss me anyway. I'm Irish and so are you. Everyone on St. Patrick's Day is at least as Irish as St. Patrick himself. And if you ask me why I'm wearing green, I'll simply tell you, "It's what we do."